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Monday, October 14, 2013

Breaking: NSA Is Collecting Millions of E-Mail Address Books and Buddy Lists

In the latest NSA revelation from Russia's Edward Snowden we learn the NSA is grabbing your contact lists buddy lists, friend lists etc from your email and social media sites. According to a story in the Washington Post  filed tonight:
The collection program, which has not been disclosed before, intercepts e-mail address books and “buddy lists” from instant messaging services as they move across global data links. Online services often transmit those contacts when a user logs on, composes a message, or synchronizes a computer or mobile device with information stored on remote servers.

Rather than targeting individual users, the NSA is gathering contact lists in large numbers that amount to a sizable fraction of the world’s e-mail and instant messaging accounts. Analysis of that data enables the agency to search for hidden connections and to map relationships within a much smaller universe of foreign intelligence targets.
During a single day last year, the NSA’s Special Source Operations branch collected 444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from unspecified other providers, according to an internal NSA PowerPoint presentation. Those figures, described as a typical daily intake in the document, correspond to a rate of more than 250 million a year.
Every day according to the report, the NSA collects another half million buddy lists on live-chat services as well as from Web-based e-mail accounts. Apparently the NSA gathers the data via secret arrangements with foreign telecommunications companies or allied intelligence services in control of facilities that direct traffic along the Internet’s main data routes.

Here's the "fun" part the  NSA has not been authorized by Congress or the FISA court to collect this information from American facilities, but they get around it by collecting the data from contact lists from access points “all over the world.” According to one official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity "None of those are on U.S. territory.”
Because of the method employed, the agency is not legally required or technically able to restrict its intake to contact lists belonging to specified foreign intelligence targets, he said.

When information passes through “the overseas collection apparatus,” the official added, “the assumption is you’re not a U.S. person.”

In practice, data from Americans is collected in large volumes — in part because they live and work overseas, but also because data crosses international boundaries even when its American owners stay at home. Large technology companies, including Google and Facebook, maintain data centers around the world to balance loads on their servers and work around outages.
This revelation is additional evidence that the  FISA program MUST be revised. On one hand the need for intelligence is understandable in this age of worldwide Islamist terrorism, that is why I originally supported the program five years ago.  However with the revelations of over reaching programs and unintentional screw-ups it has become obvious that the FISA program is a "monster" that cannot be controlled. Neither the courts nor the Congress who we trust for oversight can do its job because they only receive the information they are given.

A famous Ben Franklin quote has proven to be correct once again, "He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security."

The full Washington Post Story and all of its related articles (as well as the documents) can be found here. It would be well worth your time to read it.

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