A report in New Zealand's Sunday Star-Times suggested that the country's military, using telephone metadata acquired from the NSA, spied on a journalist stationed in Afghanistan. Despite the circumstantial evidence at hand, skepticism is in order.
The NSA's surveillance, which has been more fully documented thanks to the leaks of classified documents by Edward Snowden, includes at least three sets of data. The first is metadata from phone calls, information about phone numbers and duration collected on a daily basis from American telephone providers. The second is content of internet communications, collected from internet providers as part of the PRISM system. The third is the collection of data sent through undersea fiber optic cables in the United Kingdom, Brazil, and the United States. (And, almost certainly, a number of other places, too.)
The Star-Times suggests that the information may be from the first set of data.
The monitoring occurred in the second half of last year when [Jon] Stephenson was working as Kabul correspondent for the US McClatchy news service and for various New Zealand news organisations.
The Sunday Star-Times has learned that New Zealand Defence Force personnel had copies of intercepted phone "metadata" for Stephenson, the type of intelligence publicised by US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden. The intelligence reports showed who Stephenson had phoned and then who those people had phoned, creating what the sources called a "tree" of the journalist's associates.
The government of New Zealand disagrees, according to the Associated Press.
The New Zealand government said Monday there is no evidence to support a report in the Sunday Star-Times newspaper that the military was assisted by the United States in monitoring the phone data of journalist Jon Stephenson, a New Zealander working for the U.S.-based McClatchy news organization.
The report is the first indication that the NSA's techniques may have been used to spy on a journalist. It challenges U.S. claims that the NSA programs were not used to target specific individuals, but rather to compile large pools of usage data.
(The latter sentence above is incorrect; the NSA targets specific individuals through the second program in our list, PRISM. And it has admitted running a number of checks against the phone metadata database looking for connections to individuals.)