Google and Yahoo Furious Over Reports that NSA Secretly Intercepts Data Links

Search form

Google and Yahoo Furious Over Reports that NSA Secretly Intercepts Data Links

Google and Yahoo Furious Over Reports that NSA Secretly Intercepts Data Links
This article originally appeared on The Guardian

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 U.S. 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.

In a statement, Google's chief legal officer, David Drummond, said the company was "outraged" by the latest revelations.

"We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping, which is why we have continued to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links, especially the links in the slide," he said.

"We do not provide any government, including the U.S. government, with access to our systems. We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fiber networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform."

Yahoo said: "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."

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.

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."

In its report, the Post suggested the intercept project was codenamed Muscular, but the Guardian understands from other documents provided by Snowden that the term instead refers to the system that enables the initial processing of information gathered from NSA or GCHQ cable taps.

The data outputted from Muscular is then forwarded to NSA or GCHQ databases, or systems such as the XKeyscore search tool, previously reported by the Guardian.

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 NSA statement said, in full: "NSA has multiple authorities that it uses to accomplish its mission, which is centered on defending the nation. The Washington Post's assertion that we use Executive Order 12333 collection to get around the limitations imposed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and FAA 702 is not true.

"The assertion that we collect vast quantities of U.S. persons' data from this type of collection is also not true. NSA applies attorney general-approved processes to protect the privacy of U.S. persons – minimizing the likelihood of their information in our targeting, collection, processing, exploitation, retention and dissemination.

"NSA is a foreign intelligence agency. And we're focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence targets only."

A GCHQ spokesman said: "We are aware of the story but we don't have any comment."

The NSA statement was much more narrowly drawn than the initial response by the agency's director, General Keith Alexander. At a Washington conference on Wednesday as the Post story broke, Alexander issued an immediate denial, but was not specifically asked to address allegations that the NSA intercepted data transiting between the companies' data centers.

The latest disclosures may shed new light on a reference in a GCHQ document, first reported in September by the Guardian, the New York Times and ProPublica. As part of its efforts with the NSA to defeat internet encryption, GCHQ, the 2012 document said, was working on developing ways into the major webmail providers, including Google and Yahoo. It added that "work has predominantly been focused this quarter on Google due to new access opportunities being developed".

Other documents provided to the Guardian by Snowden suggest that GCHQ's work on Muscular, and a related tool called Incensor, is regarded as particularly valuable by the NSA, providing intelligence unavailable from other sources.

"Muscular/Incensor has significantly enhanced the amount of benefit that the NSA derives from our special source access," one 2010 GCHQ document notes. It adds that this highlights "the unique contribution we are now making to NSA, providing insights into some of their highest priority targets".

Relations between the tech companies and the government are already strained over the Snowden revelations. Speaking at a tech conference in September, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg said the government had done a "bad job" of balancing people's privacy. "Frankly, I think the government blew it," he said.

Google will have its first turn before a legislative panel to confront surveillance questions next month. Senators Al Franken and Dean Heller, who are backing a bill to compel the government to provide more transparency about bulk surveillance, announced Wednesday that the Internet giant will send a representative to a Senate hearing they will hold on 13 November.

Originally published by The Guardian

Article Tabs

student debt, student loans, debt jubilee, debt forgiveness

We realize that a “student debt jubilee” will cost money, but it will also stimulate economic growth by injecting more money into the economy – and that growth will provide more tax revenue for the government.

carbon emissions, climate catastrophe, runaway climate change, climate solutions, carbon cuts, Solutions Project, Rocky Mountain Institute, Northwest Biocarbon Initiative

It's time to call out with very loud voices for what we really need: a global energy revolution accompanied by a global land use revolution – because nothing less will do.

A day after attending a Native Lives Matter march, a Native American man in South Dakota was killed by a police officer under very shady circumstances.

Syriza party, Alexis Tsipras, anti-austerity protests, Greek protests, bank bailouts, austerity policies, Podemos party, Golden Dawn

The victory of Greece's leftwing Syriza party is sending shockwaves through Europe’s political establishment as popular resistance to the politics of austerity builds.

There are lots of ways to plug into the movement opposing Fast Track legislation and the biggest, most damaging corporate trade agreement in history.

Britain’s colonial legacy is a living one – no one is born prejudiced, but in Britain all of us are born into racism.

Posted 4 days 16 hours ago

The fight for net neutrality, like the fight for an open and free Internet, is a clarion call for Internet users and content creators to defend what has made the the web one of the world’s greatest enablers of social and economic progress.

Posted 4 days 16 hours ago
Bitcoin, blockchain, alternative currencies, digital currencies, cryptocurrencies, decentralized economies

The emerging blockchain movement can build systems that incentivize carbon reductions, make renewable energy, increase microfinance, decrease costs in remittances and education, and lower barriers to entries across industries.

Posted 3 days 9 hours ago
Barrett Brown, relevant conduct, hacking, hacktivists, Stratfor hacking, Jeremy Hammond

Barrett Brown was sentenced to 63 months in federal prison for hacking Stratfor. But he's not a hacker - he's a journalist.

Posted 3 days 9 hours ago

Occupy was brilliant in getting a message across, but these protests are specifically and deliberately setting out to disrupt the functioning of the city until attention is paid to their grievances.

Posted 4 days 16 hours ago

The fight for net neutrality, like the fight for an open and free Internet, is a clarion call for Internet users and content creators to defend what has made the the web one of the world’s greatest enablers of social and economic progress.

entrapment, FBI entrapment, terror cases, COINTELPRO, Liberty City 7, Muslim community surveillance, Seas of David, Occupy Houston sniper plot, Southern Poverty Law Center, Craft International, FBI terror plots

Most Americans know there have been dubious prosecutions in the FBI’s ongoing effort to thwart terror attacks on American soil – but unfortunately, it seems many Americans are too scared to care.

DEA spying, car license plate database, license plate readers

The ACLU warns that the scanning of license plates by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is building a repository of all drivers’ movements.

stagnant wages, rising wages, outsourcing jobs

A majority of Americans have no savings to draw upon if they lose their job, and two-thirds of all workers are living paycheck to paycheck – which is why they won’t risk losing a job by asking for higher pay.

income inequality, wealth divide, wealth inequality, Centre for Cities, London wealth, City of London Corporation

As London and the towns and cities in its vicinity flourish with new jobs, talent and money, life to the North is being choked.

Sign Up