The Wall Street Journal’s Siobhan Gorman and Jennifer Valentino-Devries broke the story this morning that the NSA’s systems can access about 75% of all Internet traffic in the US. Not only that, but it can save the content of emails and Internet phone calls sent from one US citizen to another.
The revelation contradicts previous NSA statements, including some by NSA Director James Clapper, that the NSA doesn’t intercept the actual contents of emails and other communications, and that the NSA doesn’t intercept purely domestic (US to US) traffic.
The surveillance programs, with whimsical code names including “Blarney, Fairview, Oakstar, Lithium and Stormbrew,” collect and filter information directly from US telecommunications companies, including AT&T and Verizon. Major companies like Cisco, Boeing, and Juniper provide the gear to build the systems.
Similar to PRISM, the spying program Edward Snowden revealed that lets government analysts access data from web companies like Google and Facebook, these programs only work because they integrate directly with wireless and Internet providers. Once again, private companies are demonstrated to power the surveillance that feeds the government.
The government can spy on people “reasonably believed” to be outside the US, which is a low legal bar and easy standard to meet. But NSA officials admit that many of the communications they intercept and store are actually between US citizens, and thousands of other serious surveillance errors happen each year.
The program is largely secret and regulates itself. Civil rights and privacy activists argue that the NSA should have better, more public oversight.
The fallout from 2013′s “Summer of Snowden” has been widespread. Analysts estimate that newfound distrust in US data companies will cost $180 billion, although privacy companies like us and DuckDuckGo have seen major growth in the number of people using our tools. President Obama’s approval rating has dropped, especially among young voters between 18 and 29. Last week, the President announced plans to reform NSA programs to better protect privacy.
On a final note, you can’t stop the NSA from tracking you, but you can make it harder. Here’s how.