Since 2010, the National Security Agency has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with officials.
The agency was authorized to conduct “large-scale graph analysis on very large sets of communications metadata without having to check foreignness” of every e-mail address, phone number or other identifier, the document said. Because of concerns about infringing on the privacy of American citizens, the computer analysis of such data had previously been permitted only for foreigners. (Does the gov’t. really think the American public is that gullible? Click here to find out more )
The agency can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data, according to the documents. They do not indicate any restrictions on the use of such “enrichment” data, and several former senior Obama administration officials said the agency drew on it for both Americans and foreigners.
N.S.A. officials declined to say how many Americans have been caught up in the effort, including people involved in no wrongdoing. The documents do not describe what has resulted from the scrutiny, which links phone numbers and e-mails in a “contact chain” tied directly or indirectly to a person or organization overseas that is of foreign intelligence interest.
The new disclosures add to the growing body of knowledge in recent months about the N.S.A.’s access to and use of private information concerning Americans, prompting lawmakers in Washington to call for reining in the agency and President Obama to order an examination of its surveillance policies. Almost everything about the agency’s operations is hidden, and the decision to revise the limits concerning Americans was made in secret, without review by the nation’s intelligence court or any public debate. As far back as 2006, a Justice Department memo warned of the potential for the “misuse” of such information without adequate safeguards.
Phone and e-mail logs, for example, allow analysts to identify people’s friends and associates, detect where they were at a certain time, acquire clues to religious or political affiliations, and pick up sensitive information like regular calls to a psychiatrist’s office, late-night messages to an extramarital partner or exchanges with a fellow plotter.
“Metadata can be very revealing,” said Orin S. Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University. “Knowing things like the number someone just dialed or the location of the person’s cellphone is going to allow them to assemble a picture of what someone is up to. It’s the digital equivalent of tailing a suspect.”
The N.S.A. documents show that one of the main tools used for chaining phone numbers and e-mail addresses has the code name Mainway. It is a repository into which vast amounts of data flow daily from the agency’s fiber-optic cables, corporate partners and foreign computer networks that have been hacked.
The documents show that significant amounts of information from the United States go into Mainway. An internal N.S.A. bulletin, for example, noted that in 2011 Mainway was taking in 700 million phone records per day. In August 2011, it began receiving an additional 1.1 billion cellphone records daily from an unnamed American service provider under Section 702 of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, which allows for the collection of the data of Americans if at least one end of the communication is believed to be foreign.
The overall volume of metadata collected by the N.S.A. is reflected in the agency’s secret 2013 budget request to Congress. The budget document, disclosed by Mr. Snowden, shows that the agency is pouring money and manpower into creating a metadata repository capable of taking in 20 billion “record events” daily and making them available to N.S.A. analysts within 60 minutes.
The spending includes support for the “Enterprise Knowledge System,” which has a $394 million multiyear budget and is designed to “rapidly discover and correlate complex relationships and patterns across diverse data sources on a massive scale,” according to a 2008 document. The data is automatically computed to speed queries and discover new targets for surveillance.
A top-secret document titled “Better Person Centric Analysis” describes how the agency looks for 94 “entity types,” including phone numbers, e-mail addresses and IP addresses. In addition, the N.S.A. correlates 164 “relationship types” to build social networks and what the agency calls “community of interest” profiles, using queries like “travelsWith, hasFather, sentForumMessage, employs.”
12 True tales of creepy NSA cyberstalking:
The NSA has released some details of 12 incidents in which analysts used their access to America’s high-tech surveillance infrastructure to spy on girlfriends, boyfriends, and random people they met in social settings. It’s a fascinating look at what happens when the impulse that drives average netizens to look up long-ago ex-lovers on Facebook is mated with the power to fire up a wiretap with a few keystrokes.
One such analyst working on foreign soil started surveillance on nine phone numbers belonging to women over five years, from 1998 to 2003. He “listened to collected phone conversations,” according to a letter from the NSA’s Inspector General to Senator Charles Grassley released today. The unnamed spy conducted “call chaining” on one of the numbers — to determine who had called, or been called from, the phone — and then started surveillance on two of those numbers as well.
He was thwarted only after a woman he was sleeping with reported her suspicions that the analyst had been listening to her phone calls. The analyst resigned.
In 2011, another civilian NSA employee abroad “tasked” the telephone number of her boyfriend and other foreign nationals. When she was asked about it, she claimed it was her practice to query the phone numbers of people she met socially to make sure she wasn’t talking to “shady characters.” (Because you wouldn’t want that.)
In 2005, a military member used his first day of access to run six e-mail addresses belonging to an ex-girlfriend.
Click on the link below to read the letter:
ACLU report: The FBI has vastly expanded its domestic surveillance powers, spying on Americans phones & emails without a warrant
The ACLU is putting new pressure on the FBI, calling on the U.S. Attorney General and Congress to reign in the Bureau’s power to surveil Americans’ phone calls under the Patriot Act, restrict its ability to access Americans’ online data without a warrant, and take measures to prevent its surveillance focus on religious and ethnic minorities. “The [ACLU has] long warned that turning the FBI into a domestic intelligence agency by providing it with enhanced surveillance and investigative authorities that could be secretly used against Americans posed grave risks to our constitutional rights,” the report reads. “This is what a domestic intelligence enterprise looks like in our modern technological age.”
The ACLU’s renewed focus on the FBI may seem strange given the recent string of bombshell leaks about the NSA. But its report emphasizes that the NSA’s collection of millions of Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint users’ cellphone metadata under the 215 section of the Patriot Act–perhaps the most controversial of the stories to follow NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s disclosures–has only been possible because of the FBI’s powers to secretly demand that phone companies turn over that data, before handing it to the NSA. “The critical role of one agency deeply involved in this scandal has not been fully examined…even though it requested the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] Court order compelling companies to participate in the NSA’s bulk phone records collection program,” writes the ACLU’s Matthew Harwood in a blog post introducing the report. “That agency is the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
Aside from describing how the FBI enables the NSA’s surveillance, the report goes on to accuse the bureau of abuses on more than a dozen different topics. A few of its points:
- Since 2008, according to the report, the FBI has engaged in thousands of investigations of individuals without reasonable suspicion, opening investigations on 82,000 subjects from 2009 to 2011 alone while only finding information that justified such an investigation in 3,500 of the cases.
- Aside from the Section 215 orders sent to telecom firms, the FBI secretly demands hundreds of thousands of individuals’ data from phone and Internet companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook using so-called National Security Letters–it sent 140,000 between 2003 and 2005 alone, almost half of which were targeted at Americans.
- The report claims that the FBI has racially profiled communities across America to focus its surveillance, including Chinese and Russian Communities in San Francisco, Latinos in New Jersey and Alabama, African Americans in Georgia, and Middle-Eastern communities in Detroit.
- The ACLU writes that by exempting the FBI from the Whistleblower Protection Act, Congress has allowed it to intimidate internal whistleblowers–28% of staff say they’ve witnessed but never reported misconduct. And it points out that the Bureau has engaged in recent campaigns of surveilling journalists to identify their government sources, including the staff of the Associated Press and a Fox News reporter.
- The report also highlights that despite FBI’s growing surveillance powers, it remains incompetent at its core crime-fighting job, noting that according to the FBI’s own data more than half of 1.2 million violent crimes in 2011 went unsolved.
U.S. Census Bureau wants to spy on Americans emails:
Palantir is just one of the companies profiting from the American surveillance state:
Palantir is definitely a fairly well-known company in Silicon Valley. While Silicon Valley firms actually tend to have a reputation for being skeptical of partnering up with the intelligence community, Palantir has always focused on trying to work directly with the intelligence community, quite successfully. Palantir got a bit of notoriety a couple years ago, when it was revealed to be associated with HBGary Federal when Anonymous leaked plans to try to discredit Wikileaks and various critics (including Glenn Greenwald) in a pitch to Bank of America and the US Chamber of Commerce. However, with the latest stories about NSA surveillance, and questions concerning the involvement of Silicon Valley, more and more attention has been paid to Palantir. Andy Greenberg and Ryan Mac did a profile in Forbes of the “deviant philosopher” who built the company. And the Telegraph recently called it the creepiest startup ever.
Apparently all the revelations concerning the surveillance state haven’t been bad for business either. Reports are that the company has recently closed on a little under $200 million from investors, bringing its total raised to around $500 million. Supposedly the latest valuation has the company around $8 billion — which would mean that the $200 million only bought around 2.5% of the company.
Obviously, there’s money in feeding the surveillance state. In fact, we’ve argued that so much of the hype around “cybersecurity” has really been about efforts to drum up more business for contractors, including Palantir. It’s just a shame that all these revelations don’t seem to have dampened the interest in building the surveillance state. Apparently the 4th Amendment doesn’t mean too much when all that money is on the table.