This article is from the archive of our partner .

Speaking to the American people on Friday after two-and-a-half dizzying days of revelations about the National Security Agency's surveillance operations, President Obama offered an assurance of sorts: "[W]ith respect to the Internet and emails," he said, "this does not apply to U.S. citizens, and it does not apply to people living in the United States." Which depends heavily on how you define "apply." So we spoke with some people and did a little poking around to figure out how much you might need to worry about the government accessing your private information.

You are not an American citizen and are also a terrorist.

Amount you should worry: VERY MUCH

In theory, this is exactly who the PATRIOT Act and the Foreign Intelligence Services Act (learn more!) are meant to target: people from foreign countries that want to commit acts of terror. If that is you: 1) Thank you for reading The Atlantic Wire, we guess, and 2) you should probably not use American social networking tools for your terror-related activities.

You are not an American citizen.

Amount you should worry: A LOT

Here's the deal. These tools are used to investigate "foreign" communications about terror-linked activity in an effort to stop attacks before they occur. In other words, there is almost certainly a lot of investigating that isn't related to terror plots. If you are not an American citizen, the government is not restricted by the Fourth Amendment in its efforts to try and figure out if you plan to come here and wreak terror. The extent to which you care about dudes at the National Security Agency reading what you're putting on social media sites should be used as your guide for how reluctant you are to use them.

You are a citizen who uses Skype to talk to a friend that lives in Madagascar.

Amount you should worry: SOMEWHAT

The Washington Post describes the primary modifier to Obama's use of "apply."

To collect on a suspected spy or foreign terrorist means, at minimum, that everyone in the suspect’s inbox or outbox is swept in. Intelligence analysts are typically taught to chain through contacts two “hops” out from their target, which increases “incidental collection” exponentially. The same math explains the aphorism, from the John Guare play, that no one is more than “six degrees of separation” from any other person.

In other words, if the government has reason to suspect that your friend in Madagascar is involved in terror activities, it might review that friend's use of communications technology. (Remember: It's not just email that's being looked at.) In doing so, it might see what you and your friend communicated about. And, just like that, your privacy has been comprised.

Alex Abdo, an ACLU staff attorney, spoke with The Atlantic Wire about this very issue. The "two-hop" standard, he said, "will inevitably sweep in Americans."

The biggest logical problem with the warrantless wiretapping program is that they manage to bootstrap in Americans based on the the idea they can investigate any foreign communications they want. The government shouldn't have license to listen to any American's communication just because they talk to a foreigner.

Nonetheless, it seems to think that it does.

You use Facebook to talk to a friend that lives in the United States who is friends with someone in Madagascar.

Amount you should worry: SOMEWHAT

Abdo, of the ACLU, noted a possible side effect: Two Americans might end up being targeted for communication with each other.

After all, if you have a friend whose emails or Skype communication gets sucked up in the first hop of the NSA's investigation you're suddenly only one hop away. Given the sketchiness of details about how PRISM operates, it's not clear where the boundary in terms of time and extent lies. Does the NSA get to investigate that first-hop person for a certain time period? Only in a direct email chain? How that works obviously links directly to the likelihood that you'll be caught up as the second hop. But, as the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, suggested: it happens.

You use Facebook to interact with other Americans.

Amount you should worry: SOMEWHAT

This was covered in part above. But there's another issue. The government doesn't always know from social media who is and isn't an American.

As we reported earlier on Friday, the government has to have 51-percent confidence that the person its investigating is not an American citizen. In other words, if the government has 13 reasons to think that you're a citizen and 14 to think that you're not — or however that esoteric math works — it can look at your social media trail. Or, again, maybe you're friends with someone that the government is 54 percent sure isn't American. All of a sudden, you're a hop away again.

You have a cell phone.

Amount you should worry: A LOT

At least if you use Verizon or Sprint or AT&T, all of which apparently regularly turn over call metadata to the NSA. That data includes call duration, phone numbers involved, and, possibly, location information. How the NSA uses that information — if it does regularly at all — isn't clear. (Nothing's clear. Nothing about any of this is clear. Which was how the government was hoping to keep it.)

You are Amish.

Amount you should worry: NOT MUCH

The new revelations are predicated on the use of electronic systems for communication. If you don't use a cell phone and don't use social media and don't use Gmail, you're probably safe.

Except for all of the other ways in which the government might be investigating what you're doing. Or if you're on Rumspringa.

You are Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Amount you should worry: ZERO

If you are Senator Graham, you should not worry, because Senator Graham isn't worried about this. From Politico:

“I’m glad the NSA is trying to find out what the terrorists are up to overseas and in our country,” Graham said Thursday morning on “Fox & Friends.” …

“I’m a Verizon customer. I don’t mind Verizon turning over records to the government if the government is going to make sure that they try to match up a known terrorist phone with somebody in the United States. I don’t think you’re talking to the terrorists. I know you’re not. I know I’m not. So we don’t have anything to worry about.”

Clearly. Nothing at all.

Photo by user larsjuh on Flickr.

(Click here for complete coverage of the NSA revelations on The Atlantic Wire.)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to