The National Security Agency's surveillance network has the capacity to reach around 75 per cent of all US Internet communications in the hunt for foreign intelligence, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
Citing current and former NSA officials, the newspaper said the 75 per cent coverage is more of Americans' Internet communications than officials have publicly disclosed.
The Journal said the agency keeps the content of some emails sent between US citizens and also filters domestic phone calls made over the Internet.
The NSA's filtering, carried out with telecom companies, looks for communications that either originate or end abroad, or are entirely foreign but happen to be passing through the United States, the paper said.
But officials told the Journal the system's broad reach makes it more likely that purely domestic communications will be incidentally intercepted and collected in the hunt for foreign ones.
In response to a request for comment, NSA said its intelligence mission "is centred on defeating foreign adversaries who aim to harm the country. We defend the United States from such threats while fiercely working to protect the privacy rights of US persons.
"It's not either/or. It's both," NSA said in an email statement to Reuters.
The Journal said that these surveillance programs show the NSA can track almost anything that happens online, so long as it is covered by a broad court order, the Journal said.
Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, first disclosed details of secret US programs to monitor Americans' telephone and Internet traffic earlier this summer.