July 31, 2013
No Safe Haven On Internet, NSA Can Access It All
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
New light has been shed on both the extent of the NSA's surveillance programs and how this information is shared with other government officials.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released three documents today which have until now been kept in secret and detail how information is obtained and stored. Though these documents provide additional information, large portions remain redacted, including sections that define "selection terms."
The Guardian also released more slides today that further describe what the NSA is collecting from American citizens. A program known as "XKeyscore" is said to give the "widest-reaching" collection of online data and allows the NSA to search through databases containing the emails, online chats and browsing information of millions of Americans.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the three heavily redacted documents today as it testifies at a Senate hearing on government surveillance. Though it claims the NSA programs allow the government to access chats and emails from millions of citizens, officials said the majority of the information is "never reviewed."
According to these officials, the primary purpose of obtaining this information is to build an "early warning system" to stop terrorist attacks before they can even begin. Other documents explain how the NSA is privy to metadata from phone calls, but also say that only those who are classified and properly trained are given direct access to this information. Though these documents state that only a select number of people can access this information, they also note that technical professionals who work for the organization could potentially see this personal data.
Once the metadata from phone calls and electronic dialogues are obtained, this information is then stored in a larger database. Again, specifically trained officials are then given access to this data to be used for "valid foreign intelligence purposes." Just as it's been pointed out before, this information can then be shared with other members of the government, including members of the White House staff.
The slides obtained by The Guardian back up some of the information in the documents released by the Office of the Director of the National Intelligence. Xkeyscore, as it's called, is an arm of what the NSA calls Digital Network Intelligence, or DNI. One of the presentation slides obtained by The Guardian (via Edward Snowden) says Xkeyscore can see "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet."
Furthermore, the slides show that the NSA has real-time access to this information and can observe chats and emails as they occur. Despite American law, which requires the NSA to get a warrant through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the Guardian explains that Xkeyscore gives the NSA the ability to circumvent this step.
NSA analysts are, however, required to have some piece of information about the targets before they view this data, such as an email address. Analysts are also able to search the database, described in the official documents, by name, phone number, IP address or even keywords. The slides released by Edward Snowden also say analysts can view which browser people use as they surf the Internet.
In a statement to the Guardian, the NSA said: "NSA's activities are focused and specifically deployed against -- and only against -- legitimate foreign intelligence targets in response to requirements that our leaders need for information necessary to protect our nation and its interests. XKeyscore is used as a part of NSA's lawful foreign signals intelligence collection system."