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News Categories » NEWS » Americas » United States

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X-Keyscore: Most Dangerous US Spying Program in the World
Local Editor

On late Wednesday, The British Guardian daily published classified documents leaked by wanted fugitive Edward Snowden showing that the CIA uses a covert program to monitor internet activity called "XKeyscore".

According to the daily, the NSA tool "collects nearly everything a user does on the internet".
The program allows analysts to search with no legal authorization through databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.

"Training materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search," the daily reported.

"Under US law, the NSA is required to obtain an individualized Fisa warrant only if the target of their surveillance is a US person, though no such warrant is required for intercepting the communications of Americans with foreign targets," the Guardian noted.

Moreover, one training slide displayed on the Guardian illustrates the digital activity constantly being collected by XKeyscore and the analyst's ability to query the databases at any time.

Analysts can search by name, telephone number, IP address, keywords, the language in which the internet activity was conducted or the type of browser used.

A slide entitled "plug-ins" in a December 2012 document describes the various fields of information that can be searched. It includes "every email address seen in a session by both username and domain", "every phone number seen in a session (eg address book entries or signature block)" and user activity - "the webmail and chat activity to include username, buddylist, machine specific cookies etc".
Also, one top-secret document describes how the program searches within bodies of emails, webpages and documents, including the "To, From, CC, BCC lines" and the 'Contact Us' pages on websites.
Furthermore, the daily mentioned that an NSA tool called DNI Presenter, used to read the content of stored emails, also enables an analyst using XKeyscore to read the content of Facebook chats or private messages.

An analyst can monitor such Facebook chats by entering the Facebook user name and a date range into a simple search screen.
Analysts can search for internet browsing activities using a wide range of information, including search terms entered by the user or the websites viewed.

As one slide indicates, the ability to search HTTP activity by keyword permits the analyst access to what the NSA calls "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet".
While the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008 requires an individualized warrant for the targeting of US persons, NSA analysts are permitted to intercept the communications of such individuals without a warrant if they are in contact with one of the NSA's foreign targets.

An example is provided by one XKeyscore document showing an NSA target in Tehran communicating with people in Frankfurt, Amsterdam and New York.
One downside of the XKeyscore system is that it continuously collects so much internet data that it can be stored only for short periods of time.

Content remains on the system for only three to five days, while metadata is stored for 30 days. One document explains: "At some sites, the amount of data we receive per day (20+ terabytes) can only be stored for as little as 24 hours."
"To solve this problem, the NSA has created a multi-tiered system that allows analysts to store "interesting" content in other databases, such as one named Pinwale which can store material for up to five years," the Guardian said.

Source: The Guardian, edited by website team

01-08-2013 | 15:10


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