August 21, 2013
Sources Reveal Greater Insight Into NSA Surveillance
Enid Burns for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
The depth to which the National Security Agency probes Internet activity such as emails and phone calls made over Voice Over IP (VoIP) lines is more than previously known. New reports uncovered by the Wall Street Journal reveal some of the NSA's activities.
Surveillance put in place by the NSA has the ability to reach up to 75 percent of all US Internet traffic. Yet the agency has limited legal authority to spy on US citizens without obtaining warrants or other permission.
The majority of surveillance activities of the NSA, made recently public by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, involve collecting metadata. Metadata is details on the sender and recipient of email and phone calls, among other activities. The agency says it is most interested in collecting such data on communications between foreigners, or foreigners and Americans.
New insight shows that the NSA implements filters on Internet activity. While the filters are designed to look for communications that originate or end abroad, the Journal article says communications within the US are often intercepted and end up in the NSA's records.
The NSA operates these programs under code names, apparently with a different name for each source. The Journal discovered that such programs include the code names Blarney, Fairview, Oakstar, Lithium and Stormbrew. Blarney is the code name used for data the NSA collects from AT&T.
Microsoft was not named in the Journal article, however it was revealed that the Redmond software company has supplied data to the NSA under the PRISM program. Following the public discovery, Microsoft sought to provide transparency about data it provided to the NSA. Microsoft's plea addresses the demand to know what surveillance actions the government and its agencies are taking in the name of security.
"The NSA defends its practices as legal and respectful of Americans' privacy. According to NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines, if American communications are 'incidentally collected during NSA's lawful signals intelligence activities,' the agency follows 'minimization procedures that are approved by the US attorney general and designed to protect the privacy of United States persons,'" the Wall Street Journal authors Siobhan Gorman and Jennifer Valentino-Devries wrote.
Another US official said the NSA is looking for "high-grade ore" in its surveillance, the article said, and that the agency is "not wallowing willy-nilly" through idle online chatter. Still, there is concern that the NSA's program intercepts more than the intended communications in its filters.
Filters use complex algorithms to flag communications that fit the criteria of origin, destination or possibly even a few key words.
While the NSA is said to have limited ability to impose such surveillance, the parameters of its abilities were widened some time after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Many are concerned that the NSA is overstepping its boundaries and looking into more data and information than it is allowed to.
"The NSA's US programs have been described in narrower terms in the documents released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden," the Wall street Journal article says. "One, for instance, acquires Americans' phone records; another, called Prism, makes requests for stored data to Internet companies. By contrast, this set of programs shows the NSA has the capability to track almost anything that happens online, so long as it is covered by a broader court order."
Court orders for the NSA programs are under the ruling of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Under its direction, the NSA is required to destroy all information on Americans that doesn't fall under exceptions to the rule, the Journal article states. Among the exclusions are information that is relevant to foreign intelligence, encrypted, or involves evidence of a crime.