Files obtained from Edward Snowden suggest NSA can collect information sent by fibre optic cable between Google and Yahoo data hubs ‘at will’
Google and Yahoo, two of the world’s biggest tech companies, reacted angrily to a report on Wednesday that the National Security Agency has secretly intercepted the main communication links that carry their users’ data around the world.
Citing documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and interviews with officials, the Washington Post claimed the agency could collect information “at will” from among hundreds of millions of user accounts.
The documents suggest that the NSA, in partnership with its British counterpart GCHQ, is copying large amounts of data as it flows across fiber-optic cables that carry information between the worldwide data centers of the Silicon Valley giants. The intelligence activities of the NSA outside the US are subject to fewer legal constraints than its domestic actions.
The story is likely to put further strain on the already difficult relations between the tech firms and Washington. The internet giants are furious about the damage done to their reputation in the wake of Snowden’s revelations.
According to a top-secret document cited by the Post dated 9 January 2013, millions of records a day are sent from Yahoo and Google internal networks to NSA data warehouses at the agency’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. The types of information sent ranged from “metadata”, indicating who sent or received emails, the subject line and where and when, to content such as text, audio and video. [edit: This is discussing data knowingly sent by Google and Yahoo to NSA under the Prism system.]
The Post’s documents state that in the preceding 30 days, field collectors had processed and sent on 181,280,466 new records.
Internet firms go to great lengths to protect their data. But the NSA documents published by the Post appear to boast about their ability to circumvent those protections. In one presentation slide on “Google Cloud Exploitation,” published by the Post, an artist has added a smiley face, in apparent celebration of the NSA’s victory over Google security systems.
The Post said that the interception took place on the cables that connect the internet giants’ data centers. The New York Times reported on Wednesday evening that one of the companies that provides such cables for Google was Level 3. It said in a statement provided to the Times: “We comply with the laws in each country where we operate. In general, governments that seek assistance in law enforcement or security investigations prohibit disclosure of the assistance provided.“
The Post said that by collecting the data overseas, the NSA was able to circumvent the legal restrictions that prevent it from accessing the communications of people who live in the United States, and that it fell instead under an executive order, signed by the president, that authorised foreign intelligence operations.
In response, the NSA specifically denied that it used the presidential order to circumvent the restrictions on domestic spying, though the agency said nothing about the rest of the story.
The Independent reports that: The infiltration is striking because the NSA, under a separate programme known as Prism, has front-door access to Google and Yahoo user accounts through a court-approved process.
27/11/13 Having received a takedown notice from the Independent newspaper for a different posting, I have reviewed this article which links to an article at the Independent’s website in order to attempt to ensure conformance with copyright laws.
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