WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – A new report sheds light on secret legal loopholes the government may be using to get around Constitutional protections against spying on American citizens.

The research paper was written by legal scholars at Harvard University and Boston University. It goes into details about how the federal government can “conduct largely unrestrained surveillance on Americans by collecting their network traffic abroad.”

Americans enjoy constitutional protections that prevent the federal government from conducting warrantless searches of their emails, documents, social networking data, and other cloud-based data while it’s stored or in transit on U.S. soil.

But the researchers suggest those protections do not exist when American data leaves the country.

Axel Arnbak at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, one of the authors of the paper, told CNet that U.S. surveillance laws presume Internet traffic is non-American when it is collected from overseas.

“The loopholes in current surveillance laws and today’s Internet technology may leave American communications as vulnerable to surveillance, and as unprotected as the internet traffic of foreigners,” he said.

But that information that originated in the United States can be rerouted or pushed to servers in other countries, which would then allow the NSA to collect all that data, therefore  “circumventing constitutional and statutory safeguards seeking to protect the privacy of Americans,” says the paper.

The authors say there is no evidence that the NSA or any government agency is currently using these loopholes to collect personal information about U.S. citizens.

But the report raised alarm bells nonetheless. Patrick Toomey with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, warns: “Today, Americans’ communications increasingly travel the globe, and privacy protections must reliably follow. This report raises key questions about whether our current legal regime meets that standard, or whether it allows the NSA to vacuum up Americans’ private data simply by moving its operations offshore.”

He suggests that Congress can enact new laws protecting Americans’ data no matter where it goes; or there can be some kind of global agreement that protects electronic information for everyone on Earth.

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