Last week, The Washington Post published a story I wrote with Julie Tate and Ashkan Soltani about National Security Agency surveillance that sweeps in the conversations of people who are not foreign “targets.” The story, based on 160,000 intercepted communications I received from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, has provoked a lot of questions, objections, and, I think, misunderstandings.

Some readers and commentators have described the story as an overheated statement of the obvious: that surveillance of one person includes the content of people who talk to him. Others have said The Washington Post, not the government, invaded the privacy of innocents because we published their conversations and the NSA did not. In the view of some critics, we displayed ignorance of NSA systems or knowingly chose to distort the way they work.

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