During the blog hiatus, a huge privacy and surveillance story was revealed by U.S. citizen and former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. I haven’t been able to read all of the news reports — more evidence keeps coming — but here are some of the more important stories about the vast data collection and surveillance by the NSA. The stories are in chronological order. After the jump, there is a list of interesting opinion columns on the program.
“NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others” Guardian, June 6, 2013
The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.
The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called Prism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says.
The Guardian has a section on its Web site dedicated to the continuing story: http://www.theguardian.com/world/the-nsa-files
“How Congress unknowingly legalized PRISM in 2007” Washington Post, June 6, 2013
On Sept. 11, 2007, the National Security Agency signed up Microsoft as its first partner for PRISM, a massive domestic surveillance program whose existence was reported by the Washington Post today. That’s barely a month after Congress passed, and President George W. Bush signed, the Protect America Act.
The Bush Administration portrayed the PAA as a technical fix designed to close a gap in America’s surveillance capabilities that had been opened by a then-recent ruling of the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). It proved to be much more than that.
“Credibility Crunch for Tech Firms Over Prism” Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2013
With Silicon Valley’s credibility in protecting consumer privacy on the line, many of the largest Web companies on Friday emphasized they aren’t giving the U.S. government a direct pipe into their networks as part of a secret program to monitor foreign nationals.
But the denials of involvement by Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and others, which come at the same time the Obama administration confirmed the existence of such a program, raised questions about how data is ending up in the hands of the government.
“Edward Snowden says motive behind leaks was to expose ‘surveillance state’” Washington Post, June 9, 2013
Before the world knew his name, 29-year-old Edward Snowden drafted a note of explanation. […]
“As I advanced and learned the dangerous truth behind the U.S. policies that seek to develop secret, irresistible powers and concentrate them in the hands of an unaccountable few, human weakness haunted me,” Snowden wrote in the note, which would accompany the first documents he leaked. “As I worked in secret to resist them, selfish fear questioned if the stone thrown by a single man could justify the loss of everything he loves.
“I have come to my answer.”
“Agreements with private companies protect U.S. access to cables’ data for surveillance” Washington Post, July 6, 2013
The U.S. government had a problem: Spying in the digital age required access to the fiber-optic cables traversing the world’s oceans, carrying torrents of data at the speed of light. And one of the biggest operators of those cables was being sold to an Asian firm, potentially complicating American surveillance efforts.
Enter “Team Telecom.” In months of private talks, the team of lawyers from the FBI and the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security demanded that the company maintain what amounted to an internal corporate cell of American citizens with government clearances. Among their jobs, documents show, was ensuring that surveillance requests got fulfilled quickly and confidentially.
“In Secret, Court Vastly Broadens Powers of N.S.A.” New York Times, July 6, 2013
WASHINGTON — In more than a dozen classified rulings, the nation’s surveillance court has created a secret body of law giving the National Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans while pursuing not only terrorism suspects, but also people possibly involved in nuclear proliferation, espionage and cyberattacks, officials say.
The rulings, some nearly 100 pages long, reveal that the court has taken on a much more expansive role by regularly assessing broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents, with almost no public scrutiny, according to current and former officials familiar with the court’s classified decisions.
“The price of surveillance: Gov’t pays to snoop” Associated Press, July 10, 2013
How much are your private conversations worth to the government? Turns out, it can be a lot, depending on the technology.
In the era of intense government surveillance and secret court orders, a murky multimillion-dollar market has emerged. Paid for by U.S. tax dollars, but with little public scrutiny, surveillance fees charged in secret by technology and phone companies can vary wildly.
“How Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages” Guardian, July 11, 2013
Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users’ communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency to circumvent the company’s own encryption, according to top-secret documents obtained by the Guardian. […]
The documents show that:
• Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;
• The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;
• The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;
“With 3 ‘hops,’ NSA gets millions of phone records” Associated Press, July 21, 2013
President Barack Obama’s national security team acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that, when investigating one suspected terrorist, it can read and store the phone records of millions of Americans.
Since it was revealed recently that the National Security Agency puts the phone records of every American into a database, the Obama administration has assured the nation that such records are rarely searched and, when they are, officials target only suspected international terrorists.
“Newly declassified documents on phone records program released” Washington Post, July 31, 2013
Obama administration officials faced deepening political skepticism Wednesday about a far-reaching counterterrorism program that collects millions of Americans’ phone records, even as they released newly declassified documents in an attempt to spotlight privacy safeguards.
The previously secret material — a court order and reports to Congress — was released by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper as a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing opened Wednesday morning in which lawmakers sharply questioned the efficacy of the collection of bulk phone records. A senior National Security Agency official conceded that the surveillance effort was the primary tool in thwarting only one plot — not the dozens that officials had previously suggested.
“XKeyscore: NSA tool collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet’” Guardian, July 31, 2013
A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its “widest-reaching” system for developing intelligence from the internet.
“President Moves to Ease Worries on Surveillance” New York Times, August 9, 2013
WASHINGTON — President Obama on Friday sought to take control of the roiling debate over the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices, releasing a more detailed legal justification for domestic spying and calling for more openness and scrutiny of the N.S.A.’s programs to reassure a skeptical public that its privacy is not being violated. […]
The administration also released a 22-page unclassified “white paper”explaining in greater detail why the government believes that its bulk collection of domestic phone logs is lawful. At the same time, the N.S.A. released a seven-page paper outlining its role and authorities. The agency is creating a full-time civil liberties and privacy officer, Mr. Obama said, and next week it will open a Web site designed to explain itself better to the public.
“NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year, audit finds” Washington Post, August 15, 2013
The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.
Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by statute and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls.
“New Details Show Broader NSA Surveillance Reach” Wall Street Journal, August 20, 2013
WASHINGTON—The National Security Agency—which possesses only limited legal authority to spy on U.S. citizens—has built a surveillance network that covers more Americans’ Internet communications than officials have publicly disclosed, current and former officials say.
The system has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic in the hunt for foreign intelligence, including a wide array of communications by foreigners and Americans. In some cases, it retains the written content of emails sent between citizens within the U.S. and also filters domestic phone calls made with Internet technology, these people say.
“Secret Court Rebuked N.S.A. on Surveillance” New York Times, August 21, 2013
WASHINGTON — A federal judge sharply rebuked the National Security Agency in 2011 for repeatedly misleading the court that oversees its surveillance on domestic soil, including a program that is collecting tens of thousands of domestic e-mails and other Internet communications of Americans each year, according to a secret ruling made public on Wednesday.
The 85-page ruling by Judge John D. Bates, then serving as chief judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, involved an N.S.A. program that systematically searches the contents of Americans’ international Internet communications, without a warrant, in a hunt for discussions about foreigners who have been targeted for surveillance.
“‘Black budget’ reveals a U.S. intelligence-gathering giant” Washington Post, August 29, 2013
U.S. spy agencies have built an intelligence-gathering colossus since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but remain unable to provide critical information to the president on a range of national security threats, according to the government’s top-secret budget.
The $52.6 billion “black budget” for fiscal 2013, obtained by The Washington Post from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, maps a bureaucratic and operational landscape that has never been subject to public scrutiny. Although the government has annually released its overall level of intelligence spending since 2007, it has not divulged how it uses the money or how it performs against the goals set by the president and Congress.
The 178-page budget summary for the National Intelligence Program details the successes, failures and objectives of the 16 spy agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, which has 107,035 employees.
“NSA pays U.S. firms for communications network access” Washington Post, August 29, 2013
The National Security Agency is paying hundreds of millions of dollars a year to U.S. companies for clandestine access to their communications networks, filtering vast traffic flows for foreign targets in a process that also sweeps in large volumes of American telephone calls, e-mails and instant messages.
The bulk of the spending, detailed in a multi-volume intelligence budget obtained by The Washington Post, goes to participants in a Corporate Partner Access Project for major U.S. telecommunications providers. The documents open an important window into surveillance operations on U.S. territory that have been the subject of debate since they were revealed by The Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper in June.
“N.S.A. Foils Much Internet Encryption” New York Times, September 5, 2013
The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents.
The agency has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world, the documents show.
Many users assume — or have been assured by Internet companies — that their data is safe from prying eyes, including those of the government, and the N.S.A. wants to keep it that way. The agency treats its recent successes in deciphering protected information as among its most closely guarded secrets, restricted to those cleared for a highly classified program code-named Bullrun, according to the documents, provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.
And here are a few opinion articles on the surveillance program:
“When Your Data Is Currency, What Does Your Privacy Cost?” NPR, June 9, 2013
“Surveillance: A Threat to Democracy” New York Times, June 11, 2013
“Five myths about privacy” Daniel Solove in Washington Post, June 13, 2013
“The Criminal N.S.A.” Jennifer Stisa Granick and Christopher Jon Sprigman in New York Times, June 27, 2013
“Making Sense from Snowden: What’s Significant in the NSA Surveillance Revelations” Susan Landau in IEEE Security and Privacy, July/August 2013
“Senseless Spying” Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman in Foreign Affairs, July 10, 2013
“A Better Secret Court” Former Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Judge James G. Carr in New York Times, July 22, 2013