This week the U.S. National Security Agency’s counterterrorism-related justification of massive Internet spy programmes came under fire after new documents supplied by whistleblower Edward Snowden suggested that the Agency was collecting records on the “online sexual activity and evidence of visits to pornographic websites” of individuals who allegedly sought to radicalise others into terror plots.

According to a top-secret NSA document published by the Huffington Post the covert monitoring of the activities of six individuals, all said to be Muslims, took place despite none of them being accused of terrorism and at least one of them being a U.S. citizen.

While the Director of the National Security Agency is listed as the “originator” of the document, it was evidently circulated to law enforcement outside of the NSA, with listed recipients including officials with the Departments of Justice and Commerce and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The document released by Mr. Snowden, who is a former NSA contractor and has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, suggest that the six targets radicalised people “through the expression of controversial ideas via YouTube, Facebook and other social media websites,” and India was among the list of countries where the speeches and writings of these individuals “resonated” the most.

The other countries on the list included the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Kenya, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, and the targets of the so-called radicalisers was said to include “individuals who do not yet hold extremist views but who are susceptible to the extremist message,” according to the document.

In theory the global-scale surveillance programmes of the NSA are governed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, although under the applicable laws the surveillance of U.S. citizens not directly suspected of terror activities is generally banned.

The sections of the NSA document, dated October 3 2012, published in the report frequently referred to the value of accusing such radicalisers of hypocrisy so as to undermine them and their message.

The document explicitly argues, “A previous SIGINT [signals intelligence, the interception of communications] assessment report on radicalisation indicated that radicalisers appear to be particularly vulnerable in the area of authority when their private and public behaviours are not consistent.”

Further, the report noted the vulnerabilities that could be exploited include “viewing sexually explicit material online” and “using sexually explicit persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls.”

Responding to the contents of the report Shawn Turner, Director of Public Affairs for National Intelligence, said to the Huffington Post, “It should not be surprising that the U.S. government uses all of the lawful tools at our disposal to impede the efforts of valid terrorist targets who seek to harm the nation and radicalise others to violence.”

The report however also quoted Jameel Jaffer, DeputyL director of the American Civil Liberties Union, who said that although the NSA stores “information about your political views, your medical history, your intimate relationships and your activities online [and] says this personal information won't be abused… these documents show that the NSA probably defines 'abuse' very narrowly.”

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