Sunday, June 23, 2013

How the NSA Collects Information on Millions of Americans

The British Guardian newspaper is in the process of reporting the most significant revelations since Wikileaks published thousands of classified US documents in 2010. So far the Guardian has reported 4 major stories as a result of documents and information from Edward Snowden, a whistleblower from the National Security Agency. Here is what the Guardian has revealed so far.

The Guardian has reported that a classified court order requires Verizon to give the NSA information on all telephone calls both within the US and between the US and other countries. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the program includes AT&T and Sprint as well.  The information collected includes the phone numbers of both callers, location data, and the time and duration of the call. The contents of the call are not included.

The Guardian also reported the existence of a program called “PRISM” that allows the NSA to collect information about online activity including search history, the content of emails, and file transfers. The Guardian initially falsely reported that the program gave the government the ability to directly access the servers of major technology companies. That inaccurate detail was a result of an inaccurate classified PowerPoint slide that made the same mistake. The New York Times is reporting that PRISM is an arrangement where the NSA accesses a dropbox that is filled with data, by a technology company, which was requested by the NSA through a FISA court order. The Washington Post reports that while the program is designed to collect information on foreigners, Americans’ online activity is often unintentionally collected.

The Guardian has also reported that politicians and officials who took part in two G20 summit meetings in London in 2009 had their computers monitored and their phone calls intercepted at the request of the British government. Some delegates were even tricked into using internet cafes which had been set up by British intelligence agencies to read their email traffic.

Finally, The Guardian is reporting that Britain's spy agency GCHQ, Britain’s equivalent of the NSA, has gained access to the network of cables that carry the world's phone calls and internet traffic and is processing vast streams of personal information that it is sharing with the NSA. The data collected by GCHQ includes recordings of phone calls, the content of email messages, and internet browsing history. The GCHQ told the NSA that what the NSA searched for in the collected information was “your call.”  Snowden says that the information provided to the NSA by GCHQ allows the NSA to engage in bulk interception of US traffic that they themselves are prevented by law from doing.

In March Senator Ron Wyden asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper answered, “No, sir.” Wyden followed up by asking, “It does not?” Clapper replied, “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, but not wittingly.” Millions of customers of Verizon alone have had their metadata collected by the NSA. It is abundantly clear in the wake of the Guardian revelations that Clapper lied under oath in testimony before Congress. But it is the truth teller Snowden, and not the liar Clapper, who the Justice Department is attempting to prosecute.