APRIL 28, 2017

The National Security Agency is stopping one of the most disputed forms of its warrantless surveillance program in which it collects Americans’ emails and texts to and from people overseas and that mention a foreigner under surveillance, according to officials familiar with the matter.

National security officials have argued that such surveillance is lawful and helpful in identifying people who might have links to terrorism, espionage or otherwise are targeted for intelligence-gathering. The fact that the sender of such a message would know an email address or phone number associated with a surveillance target is grounds for suspicion, these officials argued.

But privacy advocates argue that such broad collection of information means the agency, with help from telecommunications companies, is intercepting communications based on what they say, rather than who has sent or received it.

The existence of this so-called “about the target” collection from network switches was first reported by The New York Times in 2013.