NSA Sucks Up "Nearly Everything" You Do on the Internet and Makes it Conveniently Searchable


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U.S. Government

President Obama may have counter-programmed journalist Glenn Greenwald's scheduled testimony to Congress about NSA surveillance, forcing cancellation of an informal hearing featuring him and representatives of the ACLU and the Cato Institute, but it's OK — he's still getting the word out. His latest Guardian piece featuring revelations from Edward Snowden reveals that the NSA gathers "nearly everything a user does on the internet" and makes it available in a convenient, easily searchable database.

First, a caveat. As I write, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a hearing on surveillance issues, are busily denying that surveillance data collection is so wide-ranging and readily searched as Snowden and Greenwald claim.

That said, Greenwald writes at the Guardian:

[T]raining materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.

XKeyscore, the documents boast, is the NSA's "widest reaching" system developing intelligence from computer networks – what the agency calls Digital Network Intelligence (DNI). One presentation claims the program covers "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet", including the content of emails, websites visited and searches, as well as their metadata.

Analysts can also use XKeyscore and other NSA systems to obtain ongoing "real-time" interception of an individual's internet activity.

This not only vasts a fascinating light on what our government claims to be doing for us and is actually doing to us. And it adds urgency to the administration's brand new policy of living up to promises to tell criminal defendants when evidence gathered through such surveillance is being used against them.

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  1. It’s like a secret government Google. If the government were smart, they’d throw it open on a subscription basis and make a shitload of money.

    1. Then I guess we don’t have to worry about that.

      1. Isn’t that what happened with the CIA in Snowcrash? Maybe merge the NSA with Wikipedia, throw a paywall on those parts…

    2. If the government were smart they wouldn’t be the government.


    1. They hunger for data. It’s like crack to them.

      1. They never metadatum they didn’t like.

    2. To self incriminate!

      ….and to the article topic….I guess this means I have to go back to normal porn and give up the interesting stuff.

      1. Too late. You’re already branded.

    3. You’re looking at it the wrong way. You get to fill out a 1040 every year. [/Cass Sunstein]

    4. So you have the opportunity to commit tax evasion.

      The few extra pennies they’d get from automatically collecting everyone’s tax data directly is worth far less to them than the ability to nail pretty much anyone they want with yet another felony when it is convienent

    5. So that you’ll have a potential felony perjury charge hanging over you like the sword of Damocles.

    6. No kidding, just like on all of the tv shows and movies with hackers in them, couldn’t they patch together my 1040 from phonemes I’ve typed into the internet?

  3. Edward Snowden reveals that the NSA gathers “nearly everything a user does on the internet” and makes it available in a convenient, easily searchable database.

    Is there any way to verify this statement? Exampled given? Seems entirely possible, even probable, but it would be nice to see the actual evidence.

    The Senate hearing today seems to be stuck on collecting telephone records.

    1. If you go to the Guardian link there’s a link to the NSA’s training materials on the subject.

      Which can of course be faked, but I doubt it.

      1. As an Internet Perfesshunal (TM), what I’m bugged by is the oversimplification of “all internet traffic is collected”. The NSA’s mostly talking about HTTP and SMTP. I sincerely doubt they’re collecting all the DNS traffic, all the NTP traffic or SSH traffic or routing protocols or anything else. A clever person who really wanted to keep communications secret could come up with a scheme to encrypt communications and then encode it in DNS traffic…oh look, someone has already done something very similar.

        1. except someone who does that is not a “typical user”

      2. Well, instead of taking his word that any gov’t hack could access the data in any meaningful way, it would have had more affect if he’d have just released White House emails or something of that nature. That would be much more difficult for the NSA to dispute.

  4. I hope Greenwald’s article prompts some techie people to weigh in on what is likely being done and what the costs of doing it are. The storage pyramid graphic suggests that it’s really expensive to keep all this data around and available for analysis.

    After reading the article, what really stuck out for me is that we all place a lot of trust in secure web protocols (https). For point to point communication, that trust is mostly warranted, unless web sites are sharing their keys with the NSA or sharing data on the backend. Therein lies the problem with trusting cloud services.

  5. Our best/only hope of getting this program shut down is if we could prove the NSA is using it to collect underage sexting messages.

    Because nothing gets Congress riled up like child pr0n.

  6. “This not only vasts a fascinating light on what our government claims to be doing …”

    I see what you did there. Nice new portmanteau verbing of a noun.

  7. I just wonder what the Chinese and Russian, intelligence agencies are collecting. You can be pretty sure that the NSA isn’t the only agency doing this sort of thing. And then we have non-government collection. Hello Google, Amazon and anyone storing their ‘stuff’ in the ‘Cloud’, or do we trust them because they only have commercial motives?

    The real problem is with people that think a network designed by a US defence research agency would not be monitored to an unbelievable level..


  8. According to the original post, they do these people say they do this 100 times a week. They do show up at innocent people’s homes and ask to do a warrantless search based only on a google search history, and in this case a google search history that is surely less flag raising than my own. And this is the first person to ever report it. Right.

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