New Revelations Detail How The NSA Scans 75% Of The Internet Through Telco Partnerships

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Tuesday the Wall Street Journal reported the existence of several NSA programs that were either previously unknown, or little was known about. Meet Blarney, Fairview, Oakstar, Lithium and Stormbrew. The programs allow for far greater surveillance than the government has admitted to, and, importantly, detail how the government forces Internet service providers (ISPs) to hand over raw data.

The programs have the ability to “reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic,” according to the Journal, “including a wide array of communications by foreigners and Americans.” That content includes the writing of emails – not merely their metadata – and touches phone calls placed inside the U.S. that use digital telephony.

Back in 2006 when it was discovered that the NSA had installed equipment at an AT&T facility in San Francisco, it became widely suspected that the NSA was directly, or indirectly, being fed huge amounts of raw Internet data. The above programs confirm that fact. The Journal goes on to explain the process by which the NSA collects information: It commands ISPs to send it “various stream Internet traffic it believes most likely to contain foreign intelligence.” Following, the agency makes a copy of the information, and then runs searches on it, perhaps using an email address.

Other NSA programs include XKeyscore, which allows NSA operatives to quickly access private email.

The NSA recently stated that it only “touches” 1.6 percent of Internet data. That figure, I presume, is what the NSA touches after the information has been sent to them, and then culled to their liking. However, the total data inflow to the NSA is far, far higher than the 1.6 percent. The 75 percent figure that the Journal reported tuesday refers to domestic Internet traffic, some of which is foreign in origin, simply passing through fiber in the country.

So, the NSA was perhaps technically telling the truth, or something near to it, without admitting far deeper and pervasive surveillance efforts that do involve the collection of endless domestic communications information. That, it appears, is being collected, but not touched in every case. However, the data is pooled on NSA servers, and that simply is not fine with me.

Most startling in the Journal report is news that during the 2002 Olympic games in Salt Lake City, the NSA worked with the FBI to track all email and text message communications of everyone in the area for a six-month period. Quest Communications was the provider they employed. If you were looking for a cut-and-dried example of the NSA abusing its rights and absolving the right to privacy and the Fourth Amendment in practice, there you go.

Also, during that time, the government was in fact reading the emails of American citizens, as it continues to claim not to do. At some point the NSA must stop lying before it has no credibility left.

For more on the NSA, and the implications of its actions on free speech, head here.

[Image via Flickr]