The US National Security Agency has denied a $1.2bn data centre will be used to illegally eavesdrop on citizens’ emails.
The secretive agency, which serves the US military and intelligence communities, insisted yesterday that the state-of-the-art facility it is building in the Utah desert would be used to support US cyber-security in accordance with US laws that limit spying on citizens.
"Many unfounded allegations have been made about the planned activities of the Utah Data Center," the NSA said in a statement, noting that "one of the biggest misconceptions about NSA is that we are unlawfully listening in on, or reading emails of, US citizens. This is simply not the case."
Fox News aired a television report about the 92,903-square-metre facility on Friday in which former NSA employees raised concerns that the facility would be used to monitor the emails of US citizens.
The NSA said it remained "unwavering" in its respect for US laws and American citizens' civil liberties, and noted that it was subject to broad oversight by all three branches of government.
All wiretapping of US citizens by the NSA requires a warrant from a three-judge court set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passed in 1978.
Former President George W Bush issued an executive order shortly after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the USA that authorised the NSA to monitor certain phone calls without obtaining a warrant.
The NSA issued a news release about construction of the massive, Utah data centre in January 2011, identifying it as the largest Pentagon facility construction project in the country.
It said the project would result in 5,000 to 10,000 new jobs during the construction phase, with 100 to 200 permanent employees to work there once it was completed. The US Army Corps of Engineers is handling the construction of the facility.
NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said the centre was due to be completed in September.
The NSA is the executive agent for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and will be the lead agency at the facility, but the centre will also help other agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, in protecting national security networks, according to a NSA news release.