Emailing your auntie in Pakistan, or your old roommate in France? The NSA's computers already know.

The New York Times' Charlie Savage reveals that the spy agency is "temporarily copying and then sifting through the contents of what is apparently most e-mails and other text-based communications that cross the border," searching for snippets of text like phone numbers or email addresses that relate to specific terror targets. The emails are held for a few seconds on NSA servers, and—theoretically—deleted if no matches are found.

Some of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden hinted that the NSA "acquire[d] communications about the target that are not to or from the target," but Savage has confirmed that the NSA includes emails sent by and to American citizens not mentioned even in secret-court warrants.

And what about NSA deputy director James Inglis claiming that the agency doesn't "target the content of U.S. person communications without a specific warrant anywhere on the earth"? Ah, well, it depends on what you mean by "target":

Timothy Edgar, a former intelligence official in the Bush and Obama administrations, said that the rule concerning collection “about” a person targeted for surveillance rather than directed at that person had provoked significant internal discussion.

“There is an ambiguity in the law about what it means to ‘target’ someone,” Mr. Edgar, now a visiting professor at Brown, said. “You can never intentionally target someone inside the United States. Those are the words we were looking at. We were most concerned about making sure the procedures only target communications that have one party outside the United States.”