Now it’s personal for
almost every internet user
Uber-leaker Edward Snowden deserves a presidential pardon for revealing the spying scandal.
IN A MAJOR development in the government spying scandal, it was revealed Wednesday that not just chancellors and prime ministers are targeted by the NSA.
Advancing the story based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, The Washington Post reported that massive data streams are diverted off-shore from Google and Yahoo into government data warehouses.
That makes it personal. For you and me.
Hundreds of millions of people use one or both of the online giants for email. Even if you don’t, email you receive from or send to a Google or Yahoo address could end up in the government’s files.
Are we ready to say, Enough is Enough?
THE STORY BROKE around midday when The Washington Post published online its blockbuster NSA infiltrates links to Yahoo, Google data centers worldwide, Snowden documents say.
The multimedia presentation by Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani began with a cute little graphic, labled “Top Secret,” taken from a Snowden document.
The Washington Post blockbuster on government intercepts of Google and Yahoo data. Click image to enlarge.
“The National Security Agency has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world, according to documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and interviews with knowledgeable officials,” the report says.
“By tapping those links, the agency has positioned itself to collect at will from among hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans. The NSA does not keep everything it collects, but it keeps a lot.”
This is a crucial point. The massive amounts of data make it difficult to find the really important stuff, as has been pointed out time and again.
Accord to the Post, in one 30-day period 181 million new records were collected. These ranged “from “metadata,” which would indicate who sent or received e-mails and when, to content such as text, audio and video,” the report said.
“The NSA’s principal tool to exploit the data links is a project called MUSCULAR, operated jointly with the agency’s British counterpart, GCHQ,” the Post reported.
What an Orwellian name; it’s almost as bad as the USA PATRIOT Act.
These revelations should come as no surprise to readers of this site. We have reported on the growing scandal many times, most crucially in NSA broke rules on privacy thousands of times in August.
MEANWHILE, IN A follow up report across the pond, The Guardian newspaper – which has been far out in front of most American media in its coverage of the spying scandal – had the reaction in Google and Yahoo furious over reports that NSA secretly intercepts data links
The story in The Guardian in the UK with the reaction to The Washington Post revelations. Click image to enlarge.
“Google and Yahoo, two of the world’s biggest tech companies, reacted angrily to a report on Wednesday that the National Security Agency has secretly intercepted the main communication links that carry their users’ data around the world,” reported Dominic Rushe, Spencer Ackerman and James Ball.
“The documents [published by the Post] suggest that the NSA, in partnership with its British counterpart GCHQ, is copying large amounts of data as it flows across fiber-optic cables that carry information between the worldwide data centers of the Silicon Valley giants.”
Noting the outrage the scandal has already caused in Europe, The Guardian report added this perspective:
“The story is likely to put further strain on the already difficult relations between the tech firms and Washington. The internet giants are furious about the damage done to their reputation in the wake of Snowden’s revelations.”
But further down, The Guardian contradicted one minor piece of reporting in the Post story.
“In its report, the Post suggested the intercept project was codenamed Muscular, but the Guardian understands from other documents provided by Snowden that the term instead refers to the system that enables the initial processing of information gathered from NSA or GCHQ cable taps.”
Whatever the name of the program, its results are the same: interception of massive quantities of private information and storing them in government warehouses.
The Washington Post’s graphic depiction of the crucial NSA document on which its story is based. Click image to enlarge.
What was central to the program, as reported by both publications, was the NSA’s attempt to operate off shore to get around legal restrictions on spying on American citizens.
“In response, the NSA specifically denied that it used the presidential order to circumvent the restrictions on domestic spying, though the agency said nothing about the rest of the story,” The Guardian reported.
In a separate but related story, The Guardian also reported on a speech by NSA Director Keith Alexander in the story NSA director hints at scaling back some surveillance of foreign leaders
“The director of the National Security Agency conceded on Wednesday that it may need to scale back some of its surveillance operations on foreign leaders, in the wake of an international outcry,” Spencer Ackerman reported from Washington.
“Launching a public defence of the NSA for the second time in as many days, Alexander acknowledged that limiting the program may be necessary in order to maintain diplomatic relations. “I think in some cases the partnerships are more important,” he told an audience in Washington.”
The Obama administration has already stated flatly that spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel is not presently taking place nor will it in future. It has given no such assurance to the millions of Google or Yahoo users, nor those who receive supposedly private emails from them or send emails to those addresses.
As the spying scandal unravels, it comes closer to home for each and every user of the internet, no matter where one is located on the map.
There can be no doubt that online privacy is vanishing, if it has not already disappeared.
Getting the genii back in the bottle now is going to be well neigh impossible. But it is time to make a start; the only ones who have the power to do so are in the US Congress, but you would be forgiven if you doubt its ability to get anything at all done.
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