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NSA Surveillance Made Effective through XKeyscore, which Can Pull Up Your Emails, Chats
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In his first disclosive video on June 10, government snitch and federal whistleblower Edward Snowden claimed that “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.” Was he speaking the truth? Mike Rogers, Republican chairman of the House of intelligence committee, said he was in fact not. “He’s lying. It’s impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.” Well, which is it? The Guardian has explained a bit more about the capacities of the government by delineating in depth what a certain program, XKeyscore can do.

Since the government gains access to incredible amounts of information that passes over the internet, its programs must be able to sift through relevant information. They couldn’t possibly hold on to it all. Meanwhile, programs such as X-Keyscore allow this information to be sifted, and it can pierce into “nearly everything a typical used does on the internet” as its brochure boasts.


That means whoever you email can be accessed and searched readily using your mere email address to access who you’ve received emails from, and whom you’ve sent them to. It can also show your chats on Facebook and other programs, and provide phone calls, all with a minimum amount of information about you as a person – little more than an email address or IP address.

The report from the Guardian used the ease of access and use of the program as a sort of scary terrifying aspect of the program, but in fact, that it is effective is to be expected. That it can narrow down nearly all any given person’s web activity with a minimum of information is impressive, but meanwhile all that information of what millions of people, Americans and otherwise, do on the internet would require incredible amounts of space to save it all. An NSA report from 2007 claimed that 850bn “call events” were collected and stored in their databases, with 150bn internet records.

William Binney, a former NSA mathematician, said that “every day, collection systems at the [NSA] intercept and store 1.7bn emails, phone calls and other type of communications.” What to do with such information? Most of it can be stored for only three to five days. It is sifted for interest and goes to another storage site that stores it for 30 days. Another server, Pinwale, stores other records of interest for up to five years.

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The possibility for abuse is high: the government has never had such access to the private communications of its people. But the NSA has said in a letter to the Guardian that

“XKeyscore is used as a part of NSA’s lawful foreign signals intelligence collection system.

“Allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are simply not true. Access to XKeyscore, as well as all of NSA’s analytic tools, is limited to only those personnel who require access for their assigned tasks … In addition, there are multiple technical, manual and supervisory checks and balances within the system to prevent deliberate misuse from occurring.”

“Every search by an NSA analyst is fully auditable, to ensure that they are proper and within the law.

“These types of programs allow us to collect the information that enables us to perform our missions successfully – to defend the nation and to protect US and allied troops abroad.”

Whether Americans pursue their right to privacy from government surveillance, not to mention the rights of foreigners to have privacy, remains to be seen.


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