The National Security Agency is probably wishing for the days it wasn’t in the news. But following the leak of classified information from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, headlines are nearly a daily occurrence.
Case in point: the Wall Street Journal is reporting new information that demonstrates the NSA has the ability to intercept about 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic though various programs that work with telecom companies like AT&T and Verizon.
Notably, like their counterpart Internet companies in Project PRISM, such telecoms also appear to have a special relationship with the NSA and U.S. intelligence agencies. Not only are the data collections at risk for broad surveillance practices, but the networks themselves are appearing to be increasingly ill-suited for anyone expecting privacy in their Internet transactions.
Once requests are made for blocks of Internet traffic the NSA suspects may be of interest—such as foreign intelligence, criminal or encrypted traffic—the telecom companies will perform a first-level filtering on their data and deliver it to the NSA. At that point, the NSA copies the data and starts aggressively searching for items of interest with a second-level pass.
Even as the WSJ’s sources detailed the logistics of what is going on with the NSA’s data collection activities, several sources in the WSJ article emphasized that if domestic information and data is accidentally scooped up in their searches, it is quickly destroyed once it is shown to be irrelevant.
But the flip side seems to be equally true: if any domestic data is found to be interesting, then it’s neatly tucked away for later analysis. Such collection of U.S. citizens’ data would seem to be walking right up to the line of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, if not crossing it. The problem is, with intelligence-gathering warrants shrouded in as much secrecy as the methods used to gather data, there’s no way to tell.