The Washington Post has another groundbreaking story thanks to National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden this time revealing NSA's aggressive tool (MUSCULAR) that it uses to target American flagship companies Yahoo and Google:
The National Security Agency has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world . . . By tapping those links, the agency has positioned itself to collect at will from hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans.By using MUSCULAR to target American companies, NSA is deliberately bypassing laws on the books that prohibit data collection on Americans. First, MUSCULAR bypasses the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and takes advantage of the fact that different countries' privacy protections vary greatly. (Never mind that the U.S. is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects the privacy rights of both foreigners and non-foreigners). Second, NSA is relying on "foreign data links" because NSA presumes anyone using a "foreign data link" is not an American. Americans traveling abroad are still Americans. (Although, on recent trips, I haven't taken any electronics for fear of having them seized and searched upon return the the U.S.). Moreover, countless Americans' data often travels over "foreign data links."
To guard against data loss and system slowdowns, Google and Yahoo maintain fortress-like data centers across four continents and connect them with thousands of miles of fiber-optic cable. Data move seamlessly around these globe-spanning “cloud” networks, which represent billions of dollars of investment.
Yahoo and Google are understandably outraged, especially given their willingness to provide "front door" access to NSA, even to the point of being excoriated by some civil liberties organizations for their cooperation.
In a statement, Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, said the company has “long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping” and has not provided the government with access to its systems.NSA reduced the highly technical spy craft secretly targeting American companies (and collecting Americans' data) to a cartoonish hand-drawn slide complete with a smiley face. Even if NSA had a shred of credibility left after having misdirected, misled and lied to the American public, Congress, and the world about its activities, NSA's now-typical unconvincing platitude that its activities are "focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence targets only" is not reassuring in the least.
“We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fiber networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform,” he said.
A Yahoo spokeswoman said, “We have strict controls in place to protect the security of our data centers, and we have not given access to our data centers to the NSA or to any other government agency.”
NSA has no need to break into American companies' networks to obtain information about a legitimate target, American or foreign.
In addition to the legally-questionable "front door" access, the U.S. government can use a number of tools to obtain data on a target, including National Security Letters, subpoenas, and warrants to search any electronic media, cars, homes, and any other place where evidence may be found. Probable cause is not some insurmountable standard and requires no spy craft.
Courts usually find probable cause when there is a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed (for arrest) and that evidence of the crime is present in the place to be searched (for search).NSA's tired talking point that its surveillance programs are necessary to obtain information about foreign terrorist targets never addresses why it would be impossible to show a court that there's a reasonable basis for spying on a particular target
That's because, when it comes to programs like MUSCULAR, everyone is a target.