"The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post."

That's how the article in the Washington Post begins. The companies allowing direct government access to their servers for warrantless surveillance of their customers and users are Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple. Dropbox is mentioned as a forthcoming addition.

Those were just the companies listed in the top secret document obtained by the Washington Post. There is no reason to think the NSA and FBI activities are limited to the one program mentioned in the one document, or that the participating companies are necessarily limited to the ones on this list. 

Case in point: all voice and data telecommunications carriers have been required by law to build government-enabled surveillance capabilities into their equipment since 1996.

Until now we only knew for sure the NSA was into the wires: all of them. Now we know they're into damn near everything else too. After reading this report from the post, would you be surprised to find out that Microsoft, Apple, and Google have built back-doors into Windows, Mac OSX, and Droid? If they denied it would you still believe them? Indeed, several companies on the list denied participation in warrantless surveillance even after the Post confronted them.

The article refers to the tracking of foreign targets but don't let that ease your mind one little bit. The Internet is not a circuit-switched network like the old phone networks where you could trace just one call. To monitor a packet-switched network like the Internet, you have to do deep inspection of every packet: all of the traffic, all of the time. 

It's tantamount to FedEx, UPS, DHL, and the USPS opening every letter and package, denying it all the while, and then saying sure we opened everything, but we only actually LOOKED when we found letters and materials of interest to foreigners. 

I was waiting for a story like this to break. There hasn't been enough information available to prove what Uncle Sam was up to until now. Now we'll see what kind of big ACLU lawsuit will come out of it. There is absolutely no way a warrantless, planet-sized dragnet that sweeps everything into it is legal.

Tags: Civil, Domestic, FISA, NSA, Rights, Spying

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Around the early 80's there was a book that circulated around my high school called "The Anrchists Cookbook" (misspelling intentional) which outlined ways to kill and blow up buildings and such. It included diagrams and suggestions on how to support such activities with drug sales, etc. 

The deliberate misspelling brings to mind 1337 or LEET-- something that predates the old Internet-- whereby the poster defeats scanners and filters by substituting strings of text for actual words and phrases. For example anarchist is /-\N@Rc|-|I$7 and software is $0f7\/\/@r3 and so on.

These days I don't fuss about it, if they want me, they can come and get me.

My fussing consists mainly of paid memberships in the organizations that fight the legal battles that must be fought: the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Free Software Foundation, and a few others. They send me petitions and action alerts and I sign 'em and take action. I'll probably throw them a few extra dollars over this one.

And then there's the stink I raise with my representatives in Congress. I live in New York, so they generally listen and support the Constitution. Thank goodness I don't have Republican Senators and State Representatives.

Beyond that I don't have to do much. I use Linux. I've never bought anything from the companies on the list, with the exception of Microsoft (from which I haven't bought anything since 1999), and Google (from which I will never buy anything again). I don't use any Apple or Microsoft products, and I never used Facebook, AOL, or Paltalk. I stopped using Skype once Microsoft bought it. Yahoo is strictly for (free) fantasy football so: meh.

That only leaves DropBox (which I'm going to dump in favor of Ubuntu One) and Gmail (which I'm probably stuck with but for which I have started hunting for a replacement). Short of disconnecting my home from the public Internet I'm as spy-free as I reasonably can be, or will be soon enough.

I think the future is worse (or better) than you think. With nanotechnology, listening devices, motion sensors, and cameras will be everywhere and mostly undetectable. The gov't will be able to find the droids it's looking for. 

Maybe so. But it'll still be unconstitutional to use that or any other new technology to spy on millions of Americans unless the spies have warrants.

When you sign up for a free service like Facebook or you use Google, they track you.  That information belongs to them and they may just decide to share it with the government without your consent, in order to be good citizens.

I've long ranted about people putting their lives online, oblivious to the value of their own privacy.  Many of my more libertarian-ish friends have figured its all right, it's a company trying to figure out how to target ads.

Now maybe they are starting to listen.

I am starting to think this whole situation is back to front. It should be us monitoring the every move of the government. How can we have a true democracy when the voters are denied the information they need to make informed decisions on just what the government is upto.

Total transparency is not practical if you want a functioning intelligence and defense system.

Total transparency is not practical if you want a functioning intelligence and defense system.

They wouldn't need to be totally transparent to get warrants, Kairan. The NSA is gathering signal intelligence using an online dragnet that sweeps virtually everything into it-- end to end-- with a coin-flip standard of accuracy.

You can get warrants to do targeted wiretaps: to home in on specific threats from specific individuals. You can't get one giant warrant to do a generalized 'Internet tap': to browse randomly in hopes of finding a non-specific threat from a non-specific source.

It's hard to get more random than a coin flip.

That 51% accuracy setting for PRISM finding foreign versus domestic results is what might come back to bite our duly elected officials. It's going to be difficult to defend that as a reasonable standard. Why that and not 90%? Or 10%?

What court would accept a similar defense from the FBI regarding the mail? Well your honor, we flip a coin to decide whether or not to open packages and letters received from overseas or bound for overseas addresses. Maybe a Republican judge would accept the coin-flip standard but it's hard to imagine that any reasonable judge would.

Americans gave up liberty for security and now we are paying the price for it. Our government is using war that stem from ideological reasoning that can't ever be won to justify the infringements of our rights. We only have ourselves to blame to let these crooks into Congress and the government.

It is almost funny how he tries to dissasemble here. Especialy near the end  when he says he welcomes this debate , how he  considers it a sign of a maturing democracy and that 5 or 6 years ago we would have not had this debate. Can he honestly not remember the NSA warrenless surveillance controversy of 2006 that was shut down in 2007 over public outrage.


The kicker here is that warrantless wiretapping of Americans is illegal but it's perfectly legal to do to foreigners. Obama has homed in on that to "reassure" folks about PRISM.

So in "reassuring" Americans that only foreigners are the targets, the folks overseas (namely in the EU) are getting more ticked off, looking into new laws shutting out US companies, and preparing legal action for breaking spying and privacy laws over there.

This is quite a "bend over and grab your ankles" moment for Uncle Sam.

It is bs that it is not being done on americans. They only need to be 51% sure the person they are spying on is not american. Basicaly a flip of a coin would be just about at accurate as they are at deciding whether the person they are spying on is american or not. Also what happens when a foreigner is phoned by an american? I mean seriously but if we are having an email conversation how can they spy on me without breaking your constitutional right to  privacy?

And if they where really only interested with spying on foreigners they could have set this up where the lines enter america. Instead they set it up wheren they are going to capture all the american data aswell as the foreign data passing through.

And this is if you even believe what he claims in the first place. How do we honestly know if they are spying on americans or not. All we have is hes word and he seemed perfectly happy to lie to us and conceal the truth for a dozen  years.

And if they where really only interested with spying on foreigners they could have set this up where the lines enter america. Instead they set it up wheren they are going to capture all the american data aswell as the foreign data passing through.

They have to do it at the servers, Rocky. Many of the services mentioned in the article are encrypted using SSL/TLS, so wiretapping the public Internet won't work. The NSA needs to see your email and web browsing in cleartext and peep at your Skype video and listen to your voice chats unencrypted.

Beyond reading files right on the server there is only one way to distinguish "foreign" and "domestic" Internet traffic. You have to inspect the contents of every single data packet passing over the wire: the source IP address, the destination IP address, and (most importantly) the data in the packets.

But with encrypted services becoming increasingly the norm, that data is just a bunch of unreadable junk. So what's a poor NSA analyst left to do? Fire up PRISM and grab the data right off the servers, before or after the encryption comes into play.

News just in - evidently Google is denying outright that it gives access to governments in respect of its user data. 

News just in - evidently Google is denying outright that it gives access to governments in respect of its user data.

I've been reading various news reports and blog entries noting the striking similarities between the denials of the various companies involved. A few speculate there are gag orders requiring Google and the rest to deny everything if there is a security leak. That would make sense.

I'm sure the NSA and FBI accounted for the 'disgruntled employee blabbermouth' scenario-- especially in the wake of Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks-- and wrote a 'deny everything' script figuring ONE company would have to follow it at a time.

The FBI probably didn't allow for the 'top secret documents land in the lap of the Washington Post' scenario. That's why these companies are all following the script the FBI wrote for the 'disgruntled employee blabbermouth' scenario, but they're all following the same script at the same time. Oops.

I enjoy the thought that Google hates the idea of complying with PRISM and is issuing the legally mandated but now ridiculously transparent denial as a form of passive-aggressive resistance. A Google lawyer stands in a stampede of US government mules and with a stony look on his face reads robot-like from a script denying Google has ever laid eyes on a government mule.

Google has fought the federal government on this kind of thing before.


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