Google's CEO Larry Page became the latest and most high-profile representative of an internet company reported to be connected to the NSA's PRISM program to say he's never heard of the surveillance operation, but according to one former U.S. intelligence official the NSA doesn't need Google's help to access a lot of Internet communications already. How? The business website Quartz reports:
The answer, says 30-year NSA veteran turned whistleblower William Binney, is simple: Since at least 2001, the US government has had access to all the internet communication passing through at least one and possibly more fiber-optic hubs in the US. That would give the NSA access to a vast amount of data without "direct access" to company servers…
"I figure they could get 80% on what's on the network and the other 20%, the companies [like Google and Facebook] have to fill in," says Binney, who adds that these numbers are "just my estimate" based on what's known about how much traffic flows through the Internet's busiest hubs.
Binney also points out that, given the structure of the internet, the NSA is best equipped to spy on Americans, not foreigners, because the hubs it has access to are all in the US. Despite this fact, much of the world's internet traffic travels through the US anyway, making it a uniquely advantageous place to put listening devices. US spy agencies have even warned that the gradual shift away from the US as the primary hub for internet communications could make it more difficult for them to eavesdrop.
The 2008 New York Times article Quartz links to about the gradual shift of internet hubs away from the U.S. explains that that eavesdropping U.S. intelligence services so prize is one of the main reasons why the shift of internet hubs away from the U.S. has been accelerating.
More Reason on the NSA.