NSA & GCHQ: Who Watches the Watchers?

nsa protest

NSA protestors in Minnesota hold their signs.

In efforts to find possible links to terrorism, the National Security Agency is filtering through millions of personal email and instant messaging accounts around the world in order to counter the violence or other criminal measures.According to The Washington Post, the NSA captures hundreds of thousands of email addresses everyday from private accounts on Yahoo, Gmail, Facebook, Hotmail, and Twitter. Facebook has recently changed their privacy policy to accommodate the spy agency’s operation.

The Post discovered the collection strategy from confidential documents bestowed by former NSA analyst, Edward Snowden, which was confirmed later by senior intelligence officials. The NSA’s Special Source Operations branch has collected more than 440,000 email address books which equates to a rate of more than 250 million a year says the Post. Snowden, who now resides in Russia after fleeing from the United States, gave documents to the Post and Britain’s Guardian that reveals US surveillance programs that collects phone records and online data to gather intelligence on American citizens. The spy agency also obtains the data from foreign telecommunications businesses that control the flow of Internet traffic.

Spokesman Shawn Turner says that the NSA was following regulations that necessitates the agency to “minimize the acquisition, use, and dissemination” of records that identifies US citizens.The Post says that collection of contact lists would be illegal if done in the US so the spy agency conducts their operation overseas to avoid any wrongdoing.

Snowden left the US for fear of legal retribution where he remained in an undisclosed location in Hong Kong. He later boarded a flight to Russia where he was granted one year’s asylum after spending several weeks inside Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.

According to The Guardian, the NSA has five main programs that help with the collection of emails, contact list, and phone numbers:

PRISM is a top secret NSA surveillance program that gives access to information on NSA targets using servers from the largest companies: Google, Apple, Microsoft, AOL, PalTalk and Yahoo. The UK’s spy agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) also has access to PRISM data.

TEMPORA is a mass interception network used by the GCHQ that is based on tapping fiber-optic cables where the content of intelligence is received by the program and stored for three days. Metadata such as sender, recipient, and more are stored for thirty days.

PHONE COLLECTION began under President Bush and was re-authorized in July. It allows the agency to store American contacts and the content of calls.  Secret oversight courts once judged the operation as unconstitutional.

UPSTREAM refers to a number of bulk intercept programs carried out by the NSA such as FAIRVIEW, STORMBREW, OAKSTAR and BLARNEY. It involves collection of data through fiber optics and undersea cables.

 CRACKING CRYPTOGRAPHY is how the NSA and GCHQ can breach the security of the Internet that can grant access to email accounts, commerce, banking and official records.  It is a $250m-a-year program that weakens security software making all Internet users more vulnerable.

Guardian journalist, David Miranda was detained for nine hours at Heathrow airport after obtaining Snowden’s documents.  He was required to hand over all electronic devices and passwords after returning from Rio de Janeiro from visiting filmmaker Laura Poitras. Miranda is currently challenging the legitimacy of his detainment.

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