Freelancing sleuth Sharyl Attkisson penned an insightful article based on interviews with "formerly high-placed intelligence officials" titled When “incidental” intel collection—isn’t incidental in which she detailed the various ways intel agencies can spy on someone without a FISA order.
And there's this example of how "Incidental collection of a U.S. citizen target may be “orchestrated” for political reasons by those who have tools and tradecraft available to them because of their positions of power. There are ways to do it with no fingerprints." To wit:
1. Locate a foreign target already under CIA surveillance.
2. Have a government agent use the foreign target’s phone and/or computer to make it look like the foreigner contacted the U.S. citizen whose communications are sought. The contacts can be benign, but they establish a record that falsely implies a relationship exists between the U.S. citizen and the foreign target.
3. The government agent can also mimic a communication back from the U.S. citizen to the foreign target, creating an appearance that the U.S. citizen initiated contacts. This could be favorable to justifying a warrant on the U.S. citizen later.
4. The U.S. citizen is now tied to the foreign entity and is now an “incidental” collection target that can be surveilled in a “masked” format. Although “masked,” the surveilling agency knows the U.S. citizen’s identity.
5. If the U.S. citizen does anything that can be construed as illegal or suspicious, it’s possible the intel agency can then receive approval to surveil him directly rather than only “incidentally.”
Before the names are unmasked a plausible cover story might be developed from the communications to justify the unmasking.
Meanwhile, the raw number won't mean much, but Microsoft's biannual report ending last year shows that the company received 25,837 Law Enforcement Requests covering 44,876 accounts.
3:12 PM 4/15/2017