The latest round of documents to be released by wistleblower Edward Snowden on Wednesday reveal that the NSA and GHCQ have been secretly intercepting tech giants Google and Yahoo’s main communication links, hovering up users data ‘at will’ as it travels around the world.
It has been well known ever since the first revelations by Snowden in June this year, that Google and Yahoo (among others) co-operated with the NSA and its PRISM program, giving the NSA front-door access to users data by handing it over when presented with an official request (which had to go through sanctioned channels).
The smiley in the center speaks volumes for the NSA’s moral compass
However, it now appears that this wasn’t good enough for the NSA and GHCQ, and they have been collecting data secretly by tapping the international fiber-optic cables that form the backbone for carrying data between the tech companies’ data centers.
Relations between the tech companies and the US government have been stained ever since Snowden started publishing the documents he obtained while working as a contractor for the NSA, with both companies’ demanding greater transparency over the issue of surveillance, and Google taking concrete steps to improve its encryption standards and security systems. This news, which is a further blow Google and Yahoo’s reputations, has reportedly left them furious.
‘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,’ said Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond, adding that,
‘We do not provide any government, including the US 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.’
While Yahoo responded with,
‘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.’
It appears that one reason the NSA chose to behave in this way is that it sidesteps legal problems involved with spying on US citizens, as since the data was taken from international pipelines, it could all be classed as ‘foreign’ (regardless of whether it originated in the US or not), and could therefore be used by the NSA as it wished.
‘Although there’s a diminished standard of legal protection for interception that occurs overseas, the fact that it was directed apparently to Google’s cloud and Yahoo’s cloud, and that there was no legal order as best we can tell to permit the interception, there is a good argument to make that the NSA has engaged in unlawful surveillance,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Perhaps more interestingly for all of us non-Americans, it demonstrates (again) the contemptuous disregard with which the NSA treats all non-US citizens’ privacy, and the total lack of any legal protection or oversight that we have. In theory it should be up to our national governments to protect us against such intrusion, but time and time again it becomes clear that many national governments are instead actively in cahoots with the NSA.