The National Security Agency’s ability to warrantlessly sift through Americans’ international Internet traffic has been secretly expanded as part of efforts to identify malicious hackers.

The increased surveillance, sanctioned by the Obama administration in 2012, has allowed the NSA to monitor U.S. Internet networks for information about hacks originating abroad, the New York Times and ProPublica reported Thursday, citing documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

According to the Times:

The Justice Department allowed the agency to monitor only addresses and “cybersignatures” — patterns associated with computer intrusions — that it could tie to foreign governments. But the documents also note that the N.S.A. sought to target hackers even when it could not establish any links to foreign powers. […]

It is not clear what standards the agency is using to select targets. It can be hard to know for sure who is behind a particular intrusion — a foreign government or a criminal gang — and the N.S.A. is supposed to focus on foreign intelligence, not law enforcement.

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