Snowden leaks reveal extent of NSA surveillance

Technology -

In addition to telephone data, the National Security Agency has access to the user data of 9 internet companies.

Circa News
Copyright 2014 Reuters
Copyright 2014 Reuters

"I don't want to live in a world where there's no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity." Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden, 29, who has worked for several U.S. intelligence agencies as a contractor, admitted to leaking the information about the U.S. government's intelligence programs. The Guardian posted a video of an interview with Snowden.

The Washington Post and the Guardian published top secret documents in June, 2013 about the NSA's PRISM program. They say the NSA has direct access to user data of 9 Internet giants: Google, Facebook, Skype, Apple, YouTube, Yahoo, Aol, Microsoft and Paltalk. The NSA and Internet companies dispute the claim of direct access.

PRISM was established in 2007 under the Bush administration and extended under Obama. It allegedly has access to live communications and stored data of users outside the U.S. and users within the U.S. communicating with others abroad. It operates under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA.)

Several pending lawsuits claim surveillance programs are unconstitutional. A federal judge ruled in 2013 that collection of metadata is "almost certainly" unconstitutional, but he stayed his ruling. Documents show the U.S. government has repeatedly violated court-mandated limits on data collection.

An article in the Intercept on July 9 details a three-month investigation into 7,485 email accounts monitored by the NSA and FBI in 2002-08. Many accounts seemed to have ties to designated foreign terrorists, but also included five well-known Muslim Americans with no links to crimes or foreign groups.

"It's dozens of terrorist events that these [surveillance operations] have helped prevent. Both here and abroad, in disrupting, or contributing to the disruption of terrorist attacks." Keith Alexander, NSA director

Declassified information released on June 15 said that surveillance programs are reviewed every 90 days by FISA courts and all data is destroyed every 5 years. Officials said dozens of plots were disrupted in the U.S. and in 20 other countries, but claims about thwarting terrorist attacks are disputed.

According to the Intelligence Community's 2013 budget, leaked by Snowden, the CIA receives more funding than any of the other 15 agencies under the Director of National Intelligence -- $14.7 billion or 28% of the total budget. It is a figure significantly larger than the $10.8 billion which the NSA receives.

The NSA searches the contents of "vast amounts" of emails and texts sent in or out of the country for mentions of info related to foreigners under surveillance, the New York Times reported Aug. 8, 2013. Previously, government officials had acknowledged intercepting only direct communications to foreign surveillance targets.

An NSA surveillance system made public in a March 18 report shows the NSA can listen to entire telephone calls made abroad up to a month after they are made. The system, called RETRO, has the ability to collect "every single" call made within a targeted country.

By cross-referencing phone and email metadata with data such as "bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location data, property records and unspecified tax data" the NSA plots the social connections of targets, including U.S. citizens, the New York Times reported.

An NSA program called DROPOUTJEEP installs spyware on iPhones with a 100% success rate of intercepting SMS messages, contact lists, microphones and cameras, and tracking phones, according to leaked documents shared by German news magazine Der Spiegel and security researcher Jacob Appelbaum on Dec. 30.

The NSA taps into telecommunications hubs around the world in order to collect, store and analyze 5 billion points of cellphone location data per day, according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden and confirmed by unidentified NSA officials, the Washington Post reported Dec. 4.

The NSA and UK's GCHQ can easily foil most Internet encryption, reports on Sep. 5 said. They detail how the NSA has weakened encryption to make it vulnerable to spy agencies. The NSA and GCHQ have tried unsuccessfully to compromise the integrity of Tor, the online anonymity network, the Guardian reported on Oct. 4.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper apologized to Congress in a letter released July 3 for providing "clearly erroneous" testimony in March, when he told a Senate committee that the NSA does not collect information on millions of Americans.

The NSA's surveillance programs may cost U.S.-based cloud computing companies up to $35 billion over the next three years, a Washington, D.C. think tank warned in August 2013.

Software designed to prevent the type of leaks that Edward Snowden carried out was not installed on the network at the Hawaii facility where he worked, according to Reuters. The software developed by defense contractor Raytheon was designed to spot unauthorized access or downloads of classified data.

AT&T is looking to quell inquiries from shareholders over its role in domestic surveillance, with the company arguing that it must comply with all government requests for data and that compliance is merely a part of day-to-day business operations and therefore not subject to shareholder scrutiny.

Documents revealed in Feb. 2014 show the CIA uses NSA phone tracking programs to determine if a drone strike goes ahead, often without on-the-ground intelligence. A separate report published in 2013 shows NSA data collected is used in foreign attack operations in Pakistan and possibly elsewhere.

Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) introduced the End Bulk Collection Act on March 25. The act would halt mass data collection by the NSA and FBI, but would not require a court order before agencies request phone data from telecom companies -- only that a court look at the request "promptly."

An Aug. 5 report by The Intercept citing documents leaked from the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) has led intelligence experts to conclude that a new source has joined Edward Snowden in leaking classified information regarding U.S. intelligence-gathering.

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