A new report is out detailing another National Security Agency (NSA) spy program calling it, in its own words, a system able to collect and make searchable “nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet.”
According to The Guardian, which was the first to start unveiling the breadth of the NSA’s domestic surveillance program as leaked to it by former government contractor Edward Snowden, the program dubbed XKeyscore covers everything from metadata — which was already revealed to have been collected — to email content, web searches and sites visited.
While the FBI has been openly seeking the ability to obtain real-time access to email activity and online chats, according to the Guardian, the NSA has already had access to such Internet activities as they are occurring.
XKeyscore doesn’t just associate information through email accounts either. The Guardian reported analysts with the NSA being able to search the database by name, telephone number IP address, keywords and more. Metadata, the Guardian stated of the documents about the program, could help analysts narrow down the selections they wanted to search.
Here’s more from the Guardian on how it works from a legal standpoint:
Under US law, the NSA is required to obtain an individualized Fisawarrant only if the target of their surveillance is a ‘US person’, though no such warrant is required for intercepting the communications of Americans with foreign targets. But XKeyscore provides the technological capability, if not the legal authority, to target even US persons for extensive electronic surveillance without a warrant provided that some identifying information, such as their email or IP address, is known to the analyst.
The ACLU’s deputy legal director, Jameel Jaffer, told the Guardian last month that national security officials expressly said that a primary purpose of the new law was to enable them to collect large amounts of Americans’ communications without individualized warrants.
“The government doesn’t need to ‘target’ Americans in order to collect huge volumes of their communications,” said Jaffer. “The government inevitably sweeps up the communications of many Americans” when targeting foreign nationals for surveillance.
An example is provided by one XKeyscore document showing an NSA target in Tehran communicating with people in Frankfurt, Amsterdam and New York.
The Guardian also notes the documents detailing information about XKeyscore stating that by 2008, 300 terrorists had been identified using information gathered by the system.
Snowden in a June interview with the Guardian revealed that as a contractor for Booz Allen, he had been able to use XKeyscore for search.
“To search for emails, an analyst using XKS enters the individual’s email address into a simple online search form, along with the ‘justification’ for the search and the time period for which the emails are sought,” the Guardian stated. “The analyst then selects which of those returned emails they want to read by opening them in NSA reading software.”
Although the NSA is limited in the amount of time it can retain information — content is kept for three to five days but metadata is stored for 30 — the Guardian reported that the agency created a system where analysts put “interesting” content in other databases where it can be stored for years.
Read more details about the extent of the XKeyscore system in the Guardian’s full article.
The Obama administration Wednesday also declassified documents about its telephone spying program to try to tamp down congressional opposition to domestic surveillance.
The documents will provide little solace, however, to Americans hoping to understand the legal analysis that underpinned the widespread surveillance.
And the redacted documents show only in broad strokes how National Security Agency officials use the data.
One particular type of analysis, called “hop analysis” is hinted at but never fully discussed. That allows to the government to search the phone records of not only suspected terrorists, but everyone who called them, everyone who called those people, and others who called them, as well.
If the average person calls 40 unique people, three-hop analysis could allow the government to mine the records of 2.5 million Americans when investigating one suspected terrorist.
“What’s being described as a very narrow program is really a very broad program,” said Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate.
The Obama administration has also said it wants to work with lawmakers who seemed intent on putting limits on its sweeping surveillance authority.
“We are open to re-evaluating this program in ways that can perhaps provide greater confidence and public trust that this is in fact a program that achieves both privacy protections and national security,” Robert Litt, counsel to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told skeptical members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Featured image via Shutterstock.com.