By now, you know that the National Security Agency tracks the online movements of US citizens with the cooperation of major Internet corporations. But now, the Washington Post reports that according to documents from NSA whistleblower and fugitive Edward Snowden, the organization is also spying on us through Google and Yahoo, without these companies' knowledge.
As with any company or connected home, these two corporations have gateways to the outer, entirely public Internet. The NSA has successfully tapped into these links, providing them with a wealth of information that they did not yet have, including not just the metadata revealed in Snowden's initial disclosures, but actual content, such as text and video.
The amount of information is staggering. A top-secret report from January 2013 states that this project, called MUSCULAR, acquires millions of records daily from Google and Yahoo. In one 30-day period ending in January, the NSA collected over 181 million new records from these secret sources.
This is in addition to PRISM, the previously Snowden-disclosed program that gathered information on US citizens with the cooperation of Google, Yahoo, and other high-profile Internet companies such as Facebook and Microsoft.
Not surprisingly, Google and Yahoo have publically condemned the reports of government hacking. A Google spokesperson told the Washington Post that the company was “troubled by allegations of the government intercepting traffic between our data centers, and we are not aware of this activity." But the spokesperson also admitted that there were reasons to worry. "We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping, which is why we continue to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links.”
And Yahoo has stated that “We have strict controls in place to protect the security of our data centers, and we have not given access to our data centers to the NSA or to any other government agency.”
The NSA didn't do this alone. Their British equivalent, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) was also involved in MUSCULAR. Like the NSA, the GCHQ has had its own spying scandals. Last June, it was discovered that they had tapped fiber optic cables to intercept the electronic communications, and that they collected data from visiting foreign politicians.
The NSA does its MUSCULAR data mining outside of the country--a legal advantage. The organization must follow relatively strict rules about data gathering in the United States. But if data is picked up overseas, the government can assume that at least one of the people involved is a foreigner, and therefore not subject to as much protection.
According to NSA head Keith Alexander, all of this is entirely justifiable. "None of this shows that [the] NSA is doing something illegal, or that it has not been asked to do," he said in an interview immediately after the leaks. "It's legal, it's necessary, and it's authorized in every case."
This story, "NSA spying on Google and Yahoo without their knowledge" was originally published by BrandPost.