Tuesday, October 15, 2013

All your friends are belong to them

Today's NSAleak: the NSA spies on who everybody's friends are:

The National Security Agency is harvesting hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world, many of them belonging to Americans, according to senior intelligence officials and top secret documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The collection program, which has not been disclosed before, intercepts e-mail address books and “buddy lists” from instant messaging services as they move across global data links. Online services often transmit those contacts when a user logs on, composes a message, or synchronizes a computer or mobile device with information stored on remote servers.

Rather than targeting individual users, the NSA is gathering contact lists in large numbers that amount to a sizable fraction of the world’s e-mail and instant messaging accounts. Analysis of that data enables the agency to search for hidden connections and map relationships within a much smaller universe of foreign intelligence targets.

But while there's obvious intelligence value in social network analysis of e.g. suspected terrorists, there's no such value to such analysis of innocent people to any but a totalitarian government. The fact that NSA thinks this level of collateral collection is acceptable speaks volumes about their totalitarian mindset.

Meanwhile, this apparently depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence agencies (such as GCSB) and foreign telecommunications companies. The latter have no legal obligation to cooperate with a US intelligence agency, so you really have to wonder why they're doing it - and why they're not screaming about how the Americans demanded that they spy on their own customers.