Along with documents showing how the NSA and its UK GHCQ sidekick use ‘leaky’ mobile apps to collect a vast amount of vital-to-national-security information from players of Angry Birds, yesterday’s release (almost certainly timed to coincide with President Obama’s State of the Union address) also revealed GHCQ’s ridiculously named ‘Squeaky Dolphin’ program.
The slides, which come from a GHCQ presentation demonstrating a pilot program to the NSA in 2012, show how the British government either taps into the raw fiber data streams, or obtains the data through some shadowy third party (it is not clear which), to extract huge amounts of information from social networking sites.
One of the slides boasts of how YouTube Video Views, Facebook ‘Likes’, and visits to Blogspot and Blogger are harvested and processed by software developed by Splunk, a commercial company ‘which produces software for searching, monitoring, and analyzing machine-generated big data, via a web-style interface.
While this may be a scarily impressive demonstration of the reach of GHCQ, and of how much data it can harvest, a huge question remains about what they can possibly do with so much information. Well, according to the documents, we now know that Internet Explorer users are the least ‘open to experiences’, while Firefox users are more prone to ‘neuroticism’.
Silly as this may seem, it is precisely such blanket collection of raw data that Google and other tech companies resisted being which enshrined into UK law (known popularly as the ‘snoopers charter’) last summer, and which Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg vowed would never become law. A source close to Google told NBCNews that Google was ‘shocked’ at the revelations, adding that,
‘It’s extremely surprising that while they were pushing for the data via the law, they might have simultaneously been using their capability to grab it anyway.’
Home Secretary Theresa May hopes to reintroduce a modified version of the legislation in spring this year, and it also should be noted that ‘according to a source knowledgeable about the agency’s operations, the NSA does analysis of social media similar to that in the GCHQ demonstration.’
Chris Soghoian, chief technologist for the ACLU commented that,
‘Governments have no business knowing which YouTube videos everyone in the world is watching. It’s one thing to spy on a particular person who has done something to warrant a government investigation but governments have no business monitoring the Facebook likes or YouTube views of hundreds of millions of people.’