Newly leaked NSA program sees 'nearly everything' you do

The X-Keyscore program, which has been revealed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, may be the "widest-reaching" intelligence system yet uncovered.

Edward Snowden The Guardian/Screenshot by CNET

The National Security Agency has a secret program that allows it to see just about everything a person does on the Internet, according to a new report.

NSA leaker Edward Snowden, who is still holed up in a Moscow airport, has reportedly leaked to The Guardian new details on a high-powered, secret program run by the U.S. government, called X-Keyscore. The Guardian, which obtained slides of a presentation the NSA reportedly gave to employees, claims that the program is the "widest-reaching" intelligence system.

According to Snowden's files on X-Keyscore, NSA employees can, with just a few clicks, obtain everything from phone numbers to e-mail addresses. The agency also can see e-mail content , full Internet activity, browser history, and an IP address. According to the files and Snowden, the NSA can essentially see everything a person is doing on the Internet without the need for a warrant .

Debate rages over whether such information is accessible and is being used in any negative ways by the U.S. government. Lawmakers have argued that accessing data is only possible when a warrant is obtained and that the government consistently follows that protocol. Other lawmakers have argued that obtaining all of that information isn't even possible.

Despite the vast amounts of data the NSA can reportedly access, it is possible that it has not used against American citizens living within the U.S. The NSA documents, in fact, show that as of 2008, the X-Keyscore platform was used to nab 300 alleged terrorists around the world. Another describes how the NSA determines identities of alleged terrorists who access Internet forums.

Snowden has quickly become a thorn in the side of the U.S. government. For his first leaks, he's been charged with espionage and has had his U.S. passport revoked. He is currently holed up in a Moscow airport awaiting a decision by the Russian government on whether it will offer him temporary asylum. If so, he'll be able to safely reach any number of South American countries that have offered him full asylum.

The U.S. government, meanwhile, has dealt with the fallout from his leaks and has been criticized by foreign governments for its allegedly more-extensive-than-previously-believed intelligence programs. If the latest reports are true, the NSA could again come under fire from those critics.

Still, with the sheer amount of data available, it's not easy for user information to be stored for long, according to The Guardian. The leaked documents suggest that each day, between 1 billion and 2 billion records are added, requiring the NSA to free up space. The actual content is only available for three to five days, and metadata is kept for 30 days, according to the documents.

To solve that issue, the NSA has created other databases where "interesting" information can be offloaded to for safekeeping, according to the report. It's not clear exactly what information is offloaded, but it could be quite a bit. Last year, 41 billion records were allegedly collected and stored in X-Keyscore over a 30-day period.

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About the author

Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.

 

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