Is the NSA also collecting email, web browsing histories?

Declan McCullagh writing in c|net:

The head of the National Security Agency hinted Wednesday that logs of Americans’ e-mails and Web-site visits may be secretly vacuumed up by the world’s most powerful intelligence group.

During a U.S. Senate hearing, NSA director Keith Alexander was asked specifically about whether “e-mail contacts” are ingested under the Obama administration’s secret interpretation of the Patriot Act’s surveillance powers.

“I don’t want to make a mistake” and reveal too much, Alexander said, adding that disclosing details about such surveillance would cause “our country to lose some sort of protection.” It would be appropriate, he said, to discuss e-mail and other metadata surveillance in a “classified session” that senators are scheduled to attend Thursday.

Among the small circle of outsiders who closely follow the NSA, the agency’s close, long-standing relationship with AT&T, Verizon, and other telecommunications providers is an open secret — so it would come as little surprise to find they’re serving up exabytes of daily e-mail and Web-browsing logs as well. The Wall Street Journal reported last week, citing former government officials, that the NSA “obtains access to data from Internet service providers on Internet use such as data about e-mail or Web site visits.”

But Wednesday’s exchange between NSA director Alexander and Sen. Mike Johanns, a Nebraska Republican, appears to be the closest the Fort Meade, Md.-based agency has come to addressing the topic in a public setting.

Put this speculation together with what Laura Sanchez said yesterday.