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XKeyScore —How the NSA Can See Everything You Do Online

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 15 comments
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Britain's Guardian newspaper has published yet another document supposedly leaked from the National Security Agency by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

And, boy, is it a doozy.

The document — a PowerPoint-style presentation — describes a program called XKeyScore that NSA analysts can use to search virtually all electronic communication in the U.S. and worldwide.

As the Guardian's Glen Greenwald points out, the existence of XKeyScore appears to confirm that the NSA is able to search through the emails, online conversations, browser histories and other online communications of  billions of foreigners (non-U.S. persons) without a warrant.

MORE: See also: Can You Hide Anything from the NSA?

Using XKeyScore, analysts can query this enormous database by searching with an email address, a phone number, a website URL, a social media account or an IP address.

One example of XKeyScore's possible usage as outlined in the documents is to gather the IP addresses of anyone who visits a certain website.

The analysts do not need to get a warrant before querying XKeyScore. Instead, when outlining the parameters of their searches, analysts are asked to fill in a little field marked "justification." This justification is not reviewed before the search is processed.

To be clear, the NSA is not supposed to perform any kind of surveillance on U.S. persons and there's no evidence that they do. There's a huge difference between surveilling a U.S. person, which is not permitted, and surveilling a foreigner, which U.S. law permits and international law only vaguely addresses. XKeyScore seems to be used to surveil foreigners. However, any data on a U.S. person gathered "accidentally" as part of investigating a non-U.S. person can be used in an investigation.

Apparently this program is what Snowden was referring to when he said on June 10 that "I, sitting at my desk, could wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email."

With XKeyScore, the NSA has access to databases of information so vast that their own systems — XKeyScore consists of 700 servers across 150 sites worldwide — can't support it. So XKeyScore has an important caveat: it can only store this information for up to three to five days.

Analysts are allowed to move any data they deem important to other bases, including one named Pinwale, where it can be stored for up to five years.

Additionally, it's already been revealed that the NSA works with corporations such as Microsoft and Verizon to gain access to conversation data, so it's likely they can still acquire data after it's been deleted from the XKeyScore servers.

The XkeyScore documents detail an extensive and  worldwide surveillance program. However, it's important to note that XKeyScore doesn't appear to be breaking any laws. It may bend them, and it may give analysts a shocking amount of leeway, but there's nothing inherently illegal about the program.

This newest leak's timing is uncanny: four government officials related to surveillance are on the Senate floor today (July 31) to answer questions about the NSA's programs and how they are used.

The newest leaked document can be found on the Guardian's website.

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  • 1 Hide
    mouse24 , July 31, 2013 2:22 PM
    Have you guys read it? Its quite obvious that they have no idea what they are talking about. Some of the things they say in there are outright ridiculous and just wouldn't work.

    I mean they actually think MAC ADDRESSES (P.23) are even remotely useful for tracking someones location
  • 5 Hide
    Cazalan , July 31, 2013 2:41 PM
    Not too surprising. They have all the pieces they need to spy on any citizen vaguely walled off in separate programs to give an illusion of legality. When combined together the abuses can be exponential in nature.

    Let's see what is Warren Buffett trading this week?
    Which company is Bill Gates going to invest in next?
    Who is Representative ABC sexting at 1am that can be "convinced" to swing a vote.

    How many thousands of people have access to this system with a mere handful of people for oversight?

    And yes our tax dollars paid for that while the Health Care system is in shambles.
  • 0 Hide
    DREGstudios , July 31, 2013 2:42 PM
    The dystopian fantasies of yesteryear are now a reality. We’ve allowed the coming of an age where the civil liberties our forefathers fought so hard for are being eroded by the day. Freedom of Press, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly are mere ghostly images of their original intent. We’ve woken up to an Orwellian Society of Fear where anyone is at the mercy of being labeled a terrorist for standing up for rights we took for granted just over a decade ago. Read about how we’re waging war against ourselves at
  • Display all 15 comments.
  • -2 Hide
    soldier44 , July 31, 2013 2:51 PM
    It's called VPN and no they can't.
  • 1 Hide
    i2iDGE , July 31, 2013 3:48 PM
    and if i were to do this i would go to prison...
  • 2 Hide
    Rhinofart , July 31, 2013 4:35 PM
    If you think VPN can save you, you're sadly mistaken my friend. "The Man" has access to way more than you even want to know.
  • -2 Hide
    buzzrattie , July 31, 2013 4:41 PM
    Its all a bunch of 'phony scandals', at least that is what I have heard. Really Mr. President
    are we all just a bunch of sheeple?
  • 0 Hide
    bmerigan , July 31, 2013 7:22 PM
    It's interesting how opinions (in America) differ depending on whether it's American liberties being taken away or foreigner liberties being taken away.
    Why should it be ok to eavesdrop on a Canadian but not an American?
  • 2 Hide
    Cazalan , July 31, 2013 9:14 PM
    What I find amazing is that with tools like this AND several years of advanced warning from Russia, that those Boston guys were still able to pull off that horrendous act.

    Not only is it a violation of the 4th amendment rights, the NSA has actually crippled themselves from their intended goal with TOO MUCH INFORMATION.

    Which just means the goal has nothing to do with combating "terrorism" to begin with.
  • -3 Hide
    hasten , July 31, 2013 9:32 PM
    I'm a little curious why I am supposed to believe anything this attention whore is "leaking". I could throw together a powerpoint that looks like a high school student put it together with semi believable technical information and slap top secret on it too. He was a short term contractor if my memory serves me right, why was he privy to all these presentations and top secret programs? Something is off here.
  • -2 Hide
    majudhu , August 1, 2013 2:51 AM
    I don't mind anyone looking at my online communication, I only share completely public information that I want everyone to look at. The idea of the internet is to share information publicly, instantly and cheaply. If I want to talk privately or secretly I would avoid using any online service. (Where I live you cant do anything serious online). I taught my two friends GnuPG. They say it provides face to face level privacy. It would be great if OpenPGP becomes mainstream. At least major online services should send mail using OpenPGP
  • -3 Hide
    majudhu , August 1, 2013 2:56 AM
    Also not everyone want that much privacy
  • 1 Hide
    Steveymoo , August 1, 2013 4:01 AM
    NSA, George Orwell is now spinning in his grave.
  • 3 Hide
    happyballz , August 1, 2013 8:25 AM
    Fuck NSA. Bunch of fascists that try to remove your freedoms through scare tactics.
    This division spits on the Constitution and any rights provided by it... you know the document that this country is built on.
  • 0 Hide
    nekatreven , August 1, 2013 10:48 AM
    >>It's interesting how opinions (in America) differ depending on whether it's American >>liberties being taken away or foreigner liberties being taken away.
    >>Why should it be ok to eavesdrop on a Canadian but not an American?

    Oh come on now... it isn't about who is being spied on, it is about who is being spied on AND who is doing the spying.

    A nation spying on its OWN citizens will always be a bigger deal than a nation spying on others. You think people in Israel would be more upset about Israel spying on Pakistanis or Israelis?
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