The NSA's collection of citizen metadata goes beyond phones and email. The New York Times is reporting that, based on information obtained through top-secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the agency is also gathering millions of photographs for a broad facial recognition program.

The documents reveal that the agency is using sophisticated software that scans images from the web and sent through email, social media, and other private communications. It is reportedly obtaining millions of images every day, some 55,000 of which are of high enough quality to be used for a facial recognition program designed to help track intelligence targets around the world.

One 2010 document explains that it's "not just the traditional communications we’re after: It’s taking a full-arsenal approach that digitally exploits the clues a target leaves behind in their regular activities on the net to compile biographic and biometric information” that can be used to “implement precision targeting." The legality of this is in question, given that the NSA needs court approval to intercept the personal communications of U.S. targets.

“We would not be doing our job if we didn’t seek ways to continuously improve the precision of signals intelligence activities — aiming to counteract the efforts of valid foreign intelligence targets to disguise themselves or conceal plans to harm the United States and its allies,” Vanee M. Vines, an NSA spokeswoman, told the newspaper.

[via The New York Times]