Specifically, the changes impact Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Under the new guidelines, communications between people on the internet “that merely mention a foreign intelligence agent” will no longer be collected. Such information is referred to as “about” communications, the NSA said.
Collecting “about” communications has been standard practice for the agency. In fact, this type of intelligence gathering is so pervasive and ingrained into the NSA’s operations that the spy agency “does not have the ability at this time to stop collecting ‘about’ information without losing some other important data,” the April 28 announcement said.
The NSA says it is “legally allowed” to keep all this information collected under the auspices of Section 702, but it will delete a “vast majority” of upstream data that has already been collected. The motivation, according to the NSA, for the move is to “further protect the privacy of US person communications.”
The NSA stated that Section 702 will sunset at the end of 2017. It is not clear whether the Trump administration will re-authorize the NSA’s ability to carry out operations under the legal backing of Section 702.