WASHINGTON (AP) — Documents disclosed Thursday show that the Obama administration gathered U.S. citizens' Internet data until 2011, continuing a spying program started under President George W. Bush that revealed who Americans exchanged emails with and the Internet Protocol address of their computer.
The National Security Agency ended the program that collected email logs and timing, but not content, because it did not do what was needed to stop terrorist attacks, according to the NSA's director. Gen. Keith Alexander, who also heads the U.S. Cyber Command, said all data was purged at that time.
The Guardian newspaper on Thursday released documents detailing the collection. The program was also described earlier this month by The Washington Post.
The latest revelation follows previous leaks to the newspapers from ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is presumed to be hiding at a Moscow airport transit area, waiting to hear whether Ecuador or another country might grant him asylum. He fled Hong Kong over the weekend and flew to Russia after being charged with violating U.S. espionage laws.
The leaks have led to a renewed debate over national security and U.S. citizens' privacy.
The Internet data collection appears similar to the gathering of U.S. phone records, and seems to overlap with the Prism surveillance program of foreigners on U.S. Internet servers, both revealed by Snowden. U.S. officials have said the phone records can only be checked for numbers dialed by a terrorist suspect overseas.
Alexander said at a conference on cybersecurity that the NSA decided to kill the Internet data gathering program because "it wasn't meeting what we needed and we thought we could better protect civil liberties and privacy by doing away with it."
He said the program was conducted under provisions of the Patriot Act, and that NSA leaders went to the Obama administration and Congress with the recommendation to shut it down.
Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the director of national intelligence, said the program has not resumed.
The IP address is the specific numeric address assigned to a computer connected to the Internet.
The Guardian reported that some collection continues, authorized as recently as December 2012, but the newspaper only published documents detailing the earlier program started under Bush in 2001.
The Washington Post described the Internet surveillance in its earlier report, without publishing the documents or releasing as many details. The Post described it as part of four secret surveillance programs — two aimed at phone and Internet metadata, while two others target contents of phone and Internet communications.
Associated Press writers Kimberly Dozier and Lolita C. Baldor contributed.