Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The true purpose of US "lawful intercept" technology

The latest NSALeak: the NSA is tapping and recording every cellphone call made in the Bahamas:

The National Security Agency is secretly intercepting, recording, and archiving the audio of virtually every cell phone conversation on the island nation of the Bahamas.

According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the surveillance is part of a top-secret system – code-named SOMALGET – that was implemented without the knowledge or consent of the Bahamian government. Instead, the agency appears to have used access legally obtained in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to open a backdoor to the country’s cellular telephone network, enabling it to covertly record and store the “full-take audio” of every mobile call made to, from and within the Bahamas – and to replay those calls for up to a month.

SOMALGET is part of a broader NSA program called MYSTIC, which The Intercept has learned is being used to secretly monitor the telecommunications systems of the Bahamas and several other countries, including Mexico, the Philippines, and Kenya. But while MYSTIC scrapes mobile networks for so-called “metadata” – information that reveals the time, source, and destination of calls – SOMALGET is a cutting-edge tool that enables the NSA to vacuum up and store the actual content of every conversation in an entire country.

All told, the NSA is using MYSTIC to gather personal data on mobile calls placed in countries with a combined population of more than 250 million people. And according to classified documents, the agency is seeking funding to export the sweeping surveillance capability elsewhere.

Why the Bahamas? They're hardly what you think of as a haven of terrorism. Its hard to escape the conclusion that the NSA did this simply because they could. But now that its been made public, the blowback is likely to be an end to cooperation with the US on law-enforcement interceptions, which in turn is going to make the DEA's actual job of catching international drug dealers problematic. Another example of how over-reaching spies damage real interests.

Meanwhile, it really does make you wonder what the GCSB is going to do with TICS...