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NSA’s X-Keyscore: Do They Know You’re Reading This Right Now?

X-Keyscore collects the widest-reaching collection of data online and it requires no authorization for its searches. The analysts can simply run through emails, online chats, social media activity and one’s browsing history at the flick of their wrist. It also, according to a former Intelligence Community computer engineer ,“[actually] is a massive target[ing capability] that includes not only Internet-based communications such as E-mail, Voice over the Internet (VoiP) and virtual private networks (VPNs), but also non-internet telephone services and proprietary networks” as well.

Xkeyscore map

X-Keyscore: Should You Be Worried?

Whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked the inside news on the NSA’s top secret program, which boasts having the “widest-reaching” system for developing intelligence from the internet. Snowden’s conscience got the best of him; he stated that he did not “want to live in a society that does these sort of things,” so he blew the cover. Senior officials had to testify to the Senate judiciary committee and release classified documents in response to the bulk collection of phone records and Fisa surveillance court oversight (Fisa being the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978).

Snowden reported in a video interview with the Guardian, “I, sitting at my desk could wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email.” US officials denied the claim angrily – Mike Rogers, a Republican chairman of the House intelligence Committee said that Snowden was  “lying” and that his claims were “impossible.”

However, training materials for X-Keyscore were leaked and show that analysts can use the system to dig deep into agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form, with little to no qualification or justifications.

Now, collecting all phone call and internet data is a whole lot of data. In 2007, NSA reported around 850 billion calls stored and over 150 billion internet records. Each day, their report states, 1 to 2 billion more were added. Due to this overflow of information, most data can only be stored for a short time. Content stays on the system for only 3 to 5 days (at some sites only 24 hours); metadata, the “envelope” of an email or call, the when, where, who aspect, stays there for up to 30 days. Interesting content however, can be stored for up to 5 years in other databases, such as NSA’s Pinwale.

XKeyscore analysts can search for internet browsing activity using a myriad of ways, like using terms entered by the user or the websites viewed. The NSA’s documents state that they can dig up “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet” by searching HTTP activity through keywords.

They can also search for IP addresses of anybody who visits a specific website.

In a statement to the Guardian, the NSA stated that “Allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are simply not true” and that “NSA’s activities are focused and specifically deployed against – and only against – legitimate foreign intelligence targets in response to requirements that our leaders need for information necessary to protect our nation and its interests.” They also agreed that “Every search by an NSA analyst is fully auditable, to ensure that they are proper and within the law.” They believe that the program is necessary because it ensures our success in our missions “to defend the nation and to protect US and allied troops abroad.” The NSA reported having caught 300 terrorists using the system, but that’s all they have said on the subject of its success. Is it working, and worth all this drama? Yes and no, Kimery of Homeland Security Today reports. He explained that the program does a “lot, lot more” than was disclosed. Although it may be a lot of “hyperbole” and it has a lot of “flaws” (such as the need for personal), the system is the most advanced yet and it works in conjunction with other intelligence gathering systems. One counterterrorism official actually called it “our only defense right now” in regards to the threat of a future Al Qaeda attack.

The NSA also informed the public, that unfortunately, “it is impossible to provide full details of classified programs and still have them remain effective.” This, I have to agree with. I don’t want this power out there for the common man; I feel like in the future anyone anywhere is going to be able to run through everything I’ve ever done and said on the internet. But not yet at least. Oh and in response to your fears that someone is watching everything you do right now, the NSA reported that they view only .00004% of internet traffic.