Every wonder how the NSA really works? The agency likely has the most advanced AI and computing power in the world. How does it actually operate? – Well, to be honest I am not sure I want to know, however, everyone loves a good mystery so its worth to look at a few interesting points of discussion.
A new fact sheet from the NSA and FBI sets out how US intelligence agencies interpret laws designed to prevent spying on American citizens, and how the law is designed to achieve precisely that goal. Snowden’s documents have provided extraordinary details about the NSA’s activities, and what the revelations revealed is how robust its surveillance is, how pervasive it is, and how it has dominated the entire Internet and turned it into a surveillance platform. We now know that the same kind of eavesdropping tools are used by the CIA, FBI, NSA, Department of Homeland Security and other agencies, and that this information is regularly shared. While officials are still keeping their collection methods secret, they have begun and must continue to publicly disclose how the agency collects and uses the information and how it uses it.
As for the NSA itself, it has not yet been able to answer questions about whether it is spying on, monitoring, or collecting metadata from members of Congress, and it has not been allowed to do so. It is quite possible that she has denounced the fact that the value of phone metadata has fallen massively, because once Snowden has made clear what the US government has access to, anyone with a potential interest could start using encrypted apps and intercept their phone calls. By saying that it will stop collecting phone and call metadata, we can see that the NSA is listening to privacy concerns. The US Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, along with other intelligence agencies, have sought to reassure the US public that they are not looking at all their data and that oversight mechanisms are in place to ensure that they are not.
The information gathered by the NSA can confirm information that our allies voluntarily share with Washington. The NSA may disclose intercepted information to federal authorities if it has reasonable doubt as to the authenticity of a crime, but may only disclose its recorded information to the FBI, for example, if it has explicitly requested it. Although there are no limits to how the NSA can use this data, it means that police can end up with private communications without ever seeking a judge’s approval, effectively bypassing the entire notion of a probable cause.
If successful, the NSA would be able to crack all known forms of public encryption, including those used to protect the world’s state secrets. It is certainly not difficult to imagine that it intimidates reporters who write critically about the country or the government as a whole.
Like other aspects of NSA surveillance, almost everything about this type of surveillance is top secret, and we are far from the end of it. It is not a wiretapping system, but it does not let the NSA know the content of the communications, so that there would be no need to issue a warrant for this information either. As with all other aspects of his surveillance – and he leaves this far from complete – virtually everything about him has been, or is being, kept highly mysterious.
In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA had collected data on millions of Americans’ phone calls, emails and other electronic communications. Snowden said they had secretly accessed the phone data of Apple, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Dropbox, Skype, Amazon, Apple Inc. and all other companies involved in the PRISM program.
GCHQ, the British equivalent of the NSA, has a similar surveillance program, but the UK does not share information with GCHQ, giving US intelligence unlimited access to its data. The NSA receives information from the FBI’s Data Intercept Technology Unit, through sources other than its own. It has eavesdropping capabilities in some places, such as the US Embassy in London and the National Security Agency headquarters in Washington. D.C. FBI surveillance equipment was installed at another NSA facility, which is not known.
The NSA collects Americans’ phone data en masse, but the USA Freedom Act of 2015 outsources that data storage to private phone companies, which can store data for up to five years. The old espionage system, in which the NSA simply siphoned off all phone calls, text messages, emails, and other data, has been replaced by a new system that allows it to request information from providers that use certain search terms. Targeted requests instruct an automatic system to monitor and store a particular person’s communications so that information can flow back and forth between the phone provider and the Internet cable it monitors.
The NSA knows that this is not enough, and so it intercepts shipments of computers and phones by using back doors. The NSA can maintain encrypted communications for up to five years without breaking the encryption.
When advocates for surveillance insist that it is vital for national security that the NSA has easy access to these records, that is a massive lie. Upstream surveillance is all that is not tapped by the NSA, and this just to highlight a program they do not even use. This is nothing more than “upstream” surveillance, where they do not tap into anything but access data from other sources.