Cross-Border Data Gathering: How the NSA Collects Way More Data than You Think

NSA Surveillance

Photo credit: bostankorkulugu

[Source: The New York Times]

You can be sure that if it involves government surveillance things will get worse. The NSA is the perfect example of this.

Not only are they collecting information on foreigners who are under surveillance, but they’re also branching out to anyone who mentions them (known as Cross-Border data gathering).

That’s right, if you so much as talk about a targeted foreigner there’s a good chance that the NSA will start tracking you. And with the tracking comes the data collecting.

The New York Times did a great job of putting this story out there, but if you’re not in the mood to read a 1,700 plus word article then the following is for you.

Here’s what you need to know:

This broad surveillance tactic was authorized by the FISA Amendments Act of 2008

The act, passed by Congress, allows the NSA to eavesdrop “on domestic soil without warrants as long as the ‘target’ [is] a noncitizen abroad.”

The NSA claims that this tactic is lawful, and that it’s only used to collect information on “foreign powers and their agents, foreign organizations, foreign persons or international terrorists.”

What they forgot to mention is that “foreign surveillance” includes American citizens who get caught in the cross-fire.

The NSA wants to collect information not specifically tied to the target

It’s not just communications to or from the target that catch the NSA’s eye. Information outside the target’s circle of associates and contacts is also up for grabs.

This broad area would include communications about the target. This could mean that if you so much as discuss the target through emails or on social media the NSA will monitor you. Whether that’s true or not is debatable, but the recent actions of the NSA doesn’t make it that ridiculous.

The NSA is copying and sifting through emails and other text based communications to achieve this goal

According to a senior intelligence official (who remained anonymous) “the N.S.A. makes a ‘clone of selected communication links’ to gather the communications, but declined to specify details, like the volume of the data that passes through them.”

Whenever an intelligence official refuses to give details on the amount of data they collect you can be sure it’s because it’s a massive amount.

The collected data is then searched for keywords and other “selectors” which is then stored for human analysts to examine

All of which is done by a computer.

Any communications that weren’t flagged for the keywords and “selectors” are deleted. The entire process from data collection, to sifting, to storage or deletion takes a few seconds.

A few seconds pass and your data has been collected, searched and then deleted, or stored for future agents to sift through.

Now I know this might sound complicated, it took me a while to fully understand the process, so I’ll go through the entire process again to make sure you got it.

  • First off, all cross-border* information is collected from fiber-optic networks by capturing and then reassembling them.
  • The computer then searches the data for “very precise”** keywords and other selectors.
  • Data that matched the keywords is then stored for human analysts to later inspect.
  • Data that didn’t match any of the filters is supposedly deleted.

*Cross-border refers to data collected that isn’t specifically connected to the target (such as emails and other text based data).

**“Very precise” was used by the intelligence official to describe the filters that the computer uses to search the captured data. These “precise” filters are “to minimize the number of innocent American communications that were flagged by the program.

The NSA has told you numerous times that they don’t collect American data without a warrant

Deputy Director of the NSA, John Inglis said in an interview that the NSA doesn’t target “content of US person communications without a specific warrant anywhere on the earth.”

Judith A. Emmel, an N.S.A. spokeswoman, said that the NSA’s activities are “lawful” and are designed to gather intelligence about “foreign powers and their agents, foreign organizations, foreign persons or international terrorists.” She said that Americans are not the prime target.

Emmel also stated that “In carrying out its signals intelligence mission, NSA collects only what it is explicitly authorized to collect. Moreover, the agency’s activities are deployed only in response to requirements for information to protect the country and its interests.”

Americans might not be the primary target, but that doesn’t mean the NSA isn’t collecting your data.

Don’t you just love it when government officials use the “country’s interests” to decide when surveillance is needed. The interests of the nation is one of the most abused lines in history. It has been used to violate your rights, your privacy, and lock this country in a surveillance state.

Who decides the interests of the country? The government does; there’s your problem. The statement that the NSA only operates by way of warrants is hard to believe.

There’s no evidence that this surveillance has stopped any terrorist attacks

According the anonymous senior intelligence officer it would be “difficult to point to any particular terrorist plot that would have been carried out if the surveillance had not taken place.” This reconnaissance is coupled with other tools to create a “mosaic” of information.

In other words, this type of surveillance has not played a significant factor in any terrorist investigation. Isn’t that surprising?

Typical government logic. They violate your privacy in the name of security and then have nothing to show for it.

Targeting foreigners only? Not a chance.

This is a great example of how bad government surveillance can get. If the NSA will monitor you if you so much as mention a terrorist then Freedom is truly under attack. This is a surveillance state through and through. I’m just sad we let it happen.

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About John-Pierre Maeli

Keeping it simple and crystal clear, because anything else is useless. I'm here to not only inform you, but to also connect with you. That's what The Political Informer is all about. Feel free to follow me on either Twitter or Google+ Let's talk!

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