NSA Has Built Its Own, Secret, Warrantless, Shadow Social Network, And You've Already Joined It

from the getprsm dept

Soon after the very earliest reporting on Ed Snowden’s leaked documents about PRISM, the folks from Datacoup put together the very amusing GETPRSM website, which looks very much like the announcement of a new social network, but (the joke is) it’s really the NSA scooping up all our data and making the connections. It’s pretty funny. Except, of course, when you find out that it’s real. And, yes, that seems to be the latest revelation out of Ed Snowden’s leaks. The NY Times has an article by James Risen and Laura Poitras (what a combo reporting team there!) detailing how the NSA has basically built its own “shadow” social network in which it tries to create a “social graph” of pretty much everyone that everyone knows, foreign or American, and it all happens (of course) without a warrant. And, note, this is relatively new:

The agency was authorized to conduct “large-scale graph analysis on very large sets of communications metadata without having to check foreignness” of every e-mail address, phone number or other identifier, the document said. Because of concerns about infringing on the privacy of American citizens, the computer analysis of such data had previously been permitted only for foreigners.

The agency can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data, according to the documents. They do not indicate any restrictions on the use of such “enrichment” data, and several former senior Obama administration officials said the agency drew on it for both Americans and foreigners.

There were apparently two policy changes that allowed this to happen, and both occurred in the past three years. First, in November of 2010, the NSA was allowed to start looking at phone call and email logs of Americans to try to help figure out associations for “foreign intelligence purposes.” Note that phrase. We’ll come back to it. For years, the NSA had been barred from viewing any content on US persons, and the NSA, President Obama and others have continued to insist to this day that there are minimization procedures that prevent spying on Americans. Except, this latest revelation shows that, yet again, this isn’t actually true.

The second policy change came in January of 2011, when the NSA was told it could start creating this massive “social graph” on Americans without having to make sure they weren’t Americans any more, as indicated above.

Somewhat amazingly, the new report notes that in 2006, the NSA asked the Justice Department for permission to do exactly this sort of thing, and was rejected, saying that a “misuse” of that kind of data “could raise serious concerns.” Indeed, it could, and does raise serious concerns, but apparently the current administration just doesn’t give a crap.

If all of this sounds familiar, it’s almost exactly what the feds tried to setup in 2002 with the Orwellian name Total Information Awareness. Except that time (right after 9/11, when you’d think the public would be at its most receptive to such programs), as word got out about the program, the public rightly flipped out, and we were told the program was shuttered. Except, as some have been arguing for years, it was never shuttered, it was just rebuilt in secret.

And, of course, the NSA is still willing to defend this massive breach on Americans’ privacy:

An agency spokeswoman, asked about the analyses of Americans’ data, said, “All data queries must include a foreign intelligence justification, period.”

“All of N.S.A.’s work has a foreign intelligence purpose,” the spokeswoman added. “Our activities are centered on counterterrorism, counterproliferation and cybersecurity.”

Note the continued shift in language. For a while, they kept saying that the NSA does no surveillance on Americans at all. At all! They insisted that would be illegal. Then, later, people started to note that they would use the phrase “targeting foreign intelligence” which had just enough (barely) wiggle room to get people to think that they were only looking at non-US person data and content, but really meant as long as the overall investigation “targeted” foreign intelligence, it was fine. Now they’re even walking back from that, and saying that apparently it’s fine to spy on Americans without a warrant so long as there’s “a foreign intelligence justification.” In short: if you can come up with some excuse for how it might impact something foreign, the NSA can spy on Americans without a warrant.

That’s no limitation at all. In fact, such a rule is meaningless. We already know that the NSA gets every telephone record handed over because they claim it’s “necessary” to “connect the dots” on foreign terror plots. And, similarly, now they’re arguing that they can look at anything else so long as they claim that there’s a “foreign intelligence justification.” That means they have no limits. They just have to come up with some wacky reason to claim that so-and-so might have foreign connections that are important to know about, and voila, their life is open for the NSA to dig in, all without any oversight or a warrant.

Somewhat surprisingly, the already disclosed phone metadata dragnet is actually not used for this social network effort, but that doesn’t mean the NSA is lacking in data with which to create this shadow spying social network. It uses the NSA’s taps on fiber optic networks, the ones that collect a ton of internet data, as Dianne Feinstein confirmed last week.

The N.S.A. documents show that one of the main tools used for chaining phone numbers and e-mail addresses has the code name Mainway. It is a repository into which vast amounts of data flow daily from the agency’s fiber-optic cables, corporate partners and foreign computer networks that have been hacked.

The documents show that significant amounts of information from the United States go into Mainway. An internal N.S.A. bulletin, for example, noted that in 2011 Mainway was taking in 700 million phone records per day. In August 2011, it began receiving an additional 1.1 billion cellphone records daily from an unnamed American service provider under Section 702 of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, which allows for the collection of the data of Americans if at least one end of the communication is believed to be foreign.

Um. That’s an awful lot of records on Americans. And yet, we’re still being told that the NSA doesn’t spy on Americans? Yeah, right.

Anyway, it appears that the GETPRSM social network has been in existence for quite some time now, and don’t worry if you haven’t received your invite. You’ve already joined.

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Comments on “NSA Has Built Its Own, Secret, Warrantless, Shadow Social Network, And You've Already Joined It”

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Jay (profile) says:

Money well spent

Here’s what really stinks…

Instead of our nation concerned about public health, public education, or any other public goods, we have to fight a surveillance state that no one asked for except the smallest amount of people.

All of the money that was spent on spying on Americans is money lost in other fields and industries.

The copyright industry says that piracy kills their industry so they need the surveillance.

Or how about Google spying on us and giving the records to the government?

No… It’s all a massive sham to ensure that those in power stay in power.

What a waste of time and money!

Zakida Paul (profile) says:

Re: Money well spent

Actually, here is what really stinks.

Government have convinced the public that all of this is totally benign and necessary for their own safety. All the while the real power brokers get insanely rich from it.

That is what conservative politics over the last century has been all about, wealth persuading poverty to use it’s political freedom to keep wealth in power.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Money well spent

No, what’s fucking sickening is that the Go0vernment of the “most liberally free” country on the planet have convinced the public that liberty is the necessary sacrifice on the altar of “safety”.

Which is why I would happy compare the Obama administration to the Khomeini regime of Iran and Ahmadinejad. Because those are tools that have been actively used there.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Money well spent

Obama is a right-leaning centrist. Whether or not people who call themselves “conservatives” would claim him doesn’t change that fact. Conservatism has been the primary trend of politics in the US over the last few decades. It’s not just Obama — I can’t think of a liberal president or congress in my lifetime.

But that’s all a sideshow — the real problem, and the real divide, is not conservatism vs liberalism. That’s the phony split the powers-that-be use to keep us rabble fighting with each other rather than fighting for our nation.

The real problem is corporatism, and corporatism roosts with equal ease in both the left and the right.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Money well spent

I’d argue that’s the issue of neoclassical economics. Honestly, Obama isn’t a right leaning centrist. He IS a right winger similar to FDR before he got a lot of problems from grass roots advocacy that forced him to turn into a progressive.

The problem is that the US spent the last 60 years decimating the left wing in America so it’s splintered and weak. Unions were destroyed, Socialists were ostracized, and Communists were kept apart. With that out of the way, you get more right wingers that are more interested in the corporate machines that feed them. That’s the entire problem of economics if you aren’t careful. What you don’t pay attention to can end up hurting your base.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“And everybody who uses the Internet is almost certain to have some connection to foreign persons, companies or servers.”

Indeed. The first time how globalized the internet was really hit me was back in ’99 or ’00. I was in an IRC chatroom late one night, and someone asked the question what time it was for everyone. For most people it was late at night, either east coast or west coast time. For one guy, it was the middle of the afternoon, he lived in Australia.

That awareness has only grown over the years. When you talk to people on an internet forum, odds are decent that someone has English as their second language. Especially if it’s about a more global spanning hobby like video games.

For that matter just look at the comments on various stories about NSA spying and look for the people complaining or questioning that there’s no outcry about the intrusive spying on foreigners, just about the spying on Americans. Pretty much all of them are foreign, and thus by conversing with them, people have a “foreign person” they’re connected to.

So odds are pretty good, just by conversing with people on the internet about your hobbies, you have all the foreign connections needed to justify the NSA looking at your information.

stimoceiver (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’ve often wondered if any time a US citizen places a call to a cell phone whose area code corresponds to a different geographical “state” than the one the call originates in, is it then construed as interstate commerce, even if both phones reside in the same geographical state?

My guess is, yes it is so construed, and it probably has been for some time.

DataShade (profile) says:

Eben Moglen kind of talked about this last year, too, altho’, obviously, there were no documents disclosing the details.

From http://www.softwarefreedom.org/events/2012/freedom-to-connect_moglen-keynote-2012.html

A senior government official in this government said to me after the United States changed its rules about how long they keep information on everybody about whom nothing is suspected – you all do know about that right? Rainy Wednesday on the 21st of March, long after the close of business, Department of Justice and the DNI, that’s the Director of National Intelligence, put out a joint press release announcing minor changes in the Ashcroft rules, including a minor change that says that all personally identifiable information in government databases at the National Center for Counter-Terrorism that are based around people of whom nothing is suspected, will no longer be retained as under the Ashcroft rules for a maximum of 180 days, the maximum has now been changed to 5 years. Which is infinity.

I told my students in my classroom, the only reason they said 5 years was they couldn’t get the sideways eight into the font for the press release, so they used an approximation. So I was talking to a senior government official of this government about that outcome and he said well you know we’ve come to realize that we need a robust social graph of the United States. That’s how we’re going to connect new information to old information. I said let’s just talk about the constitutional implications of this for a moment. You’re talking about taking us from the society we have always known, which we quaintly refer to as a free society, to a society in which the United States government keeps a list of everybody every American knows. So if you’re going to take us from what we used to call a free society to a society in which the US government keeps a list of everybody every American knows, what should be the constitutional procedure for doing this? Should we have, for example, a law? He just laughed. Because of course they didn’t need a law. They did it with a press release on a rainy Wednesday night after everybody went home, and you live there now.

The network, as it stands now, is an extraordinary platform for enhanced social control. Very rapidly, and with no apparent remorse, the two largest governments on earth, that of the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China have adopted essentially identical points of view. A robust social graph connecting government to everybody and the exhaustive data mining of society is both governments fundamental policy with respect to their different forms of what they both refer to, or think of, as stability maintenance. It is true of course that they have different theories of how to maintain stability for whom and why, but the technology of stability maintenance is becoming essentially identical.

And here’s a PDF of the press release. http://www.dni.gov/index.php/newsroom/press-releases/96-press-releases-2012/528-odni-and-doj-update-guidelines-for-nctc-access,-retention,-use,-and-dissemination-of-information-in-datasets-containing-non-terrorism-information?tmpl=component&format=pdf

Annie says:

Re: surveillance


Obama to the military: “I would like you close down Quantanamo Bay please.”

Military to Obama: “Erm, no, I don’t believe we will do that Mr President”.

Obama to Claper: “I would like you to stop the unconstitutional surveillance of Americans and friendly nations”.

Clapper to Obama: “Erm, no. I don’t believe we will do that Mr President”.

Obama to himself: “Oh. OK then. Does my bum look big in this?”

What a joke this man is.


beech. says:

Oh. At least they need to have a foreign intelligence purpose. ..

?All of N.S.A.?s work has a foreign intelligence purpose,? the spokeswoman added.

Oh, so now anything they do is by definition for foreign intelligence purposes…therefore everything they do is perfectly ok. Move along citizen! Everything is A-OK here. All above board and legal.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Thought so...

If all of this sounds familiar, it’s almost exactly what the feds tried to setup in 2002 with the Orwellian name Total Information Awareness. Except that time (right after 9/11, when you’d think the public would be at its most receptive to such programs), as word got out about the program, the public rightly flipped out, and we were told the program was shuttered. Except, as some have been arguing for years, it was never shuttered, it was just rebuilt in secret.

It seemed to me at that time that the government would never voluntarily do such a thing, and I was right.

Damn, I hate being right about this stuff. Sad that you can’t go wrong over-estimating the power of the government to ignore legalities.

Anonymous Coward says:

NSA is scooping up 1.1 billion American phone calls daily? It’s time for everyone in the world to realize that these unconstitutional spy programs have little to do with catching terrorists.

These unconstitutional spy programs are mainly about political blackmail, industrial espionage, and suppression of ordinary citizen’s freedom and rights.

Most people on Zukerburg’s Spybook are sheep and will go unnoticed. If anyone on social networks start making political waves, such as organizing a protest against NSA spying. You better watch out, because the NSA, FBI, and DOJ will use “parallel construction” to find evidence and arrest you before your movement turns into another Martin Luther King Jr. event.

Anonymoose Custard (profile) says:

I think it's fake.

GetPRSM.com isn’t even trying to be subtle: Among the meta keywords are “Utah Datacenter” and “Parody.” If you try to sign up, it pops up a dialog that says there are “technical problems” and links you to “technical support” over at the EFF website.

It even says “Made with love at Fort Meade” at the bottom and uses one of the famous pictures of the Utah datacenter.

Anonymous Coward says:

miss the forest for the trees.

Full Definition of FOREIGN
: situated outside a place or country; especially : situated outside one’s own country
: born in, belonging to, or characteristic of some place or country other than the one under consideration
: of, relating to, or proceeding from some other person or material thing than the one under consideration
: alien in character : not connected or pertinent
: related to or dealing with other nations
a : occurring in an abnormal situation in the living body and often introduced from outside
b : not recognized by the immune system as part of the self
: not being within the jurisdiction of a political unit (as a state)

Anonymous Coward says:

‘ Except it was never shuttered, it was just rebuilt in secret.’

and this is exactly what will happen with any of the surveillance that any of the security agencies are/have been doing. there is no way that it will stop! it is going to go on and on until the inevitable conclusion happens. a war the likes of which has never been seen! and it will be all because certain people in a certain country cannot bear to think that somewhere, someone is doing something that it doesn’t know about, that an industry is losing out on the sale of a couple of media disks and an industry is losing out because someone else is selling a ‘look alike’ drug that thousands can afford instead of of a couple of dozen!!

Nick (profile) says:

The last sentence of the post, rearranged a bit:

“GETPRSM: The social network the NSA doesn’t want you to know about. And don’t worry if you haven’t received your invite. You’ve already joined.”

Sounds like the tagline for a horror movie about government spys that terrorize their victims with the information they have on them.

JTReyn (profile) says:

SPIES GONE WILD - NSA is at it again

NSA’s is making their own SPIES GONE WILD video to justify their actions. But it doesn’t work. Their argument is “Trust us. We’re hunting terrorists, so we don’t need no stinking 4th Amendment.”

Now, it’s clear they’re going to keep doing it anyway. It’s naive to think they’re going to stop. So far, the only solution to keep your stuff safe from prying eyes is to get a private cloud, like a Cloudlocker (www.cloudlocker.it) that works like a cloud service but stays at home where they still need a warrant to get it.

Anon says:

And no one even brings up the fact that NSA is US Mil.

They are not supposed to do operations on US soil. Period.
Now the 1st army brigade is stationed here, and travels around the major US cities, to train local law enforcement on crowd control.
To protect the bankers.

They are also flying contractors over the border to Canada, to do intercepts of US public, but then it is not on US soil, eh?

Wink, Wink.

There are also federal laws against propaganda by US employees. How is NSA and CIA employees at newspapers not a violation of that legal standard ?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Facebook

True enough, but we should be cautious about what inferences we draw from that. The reason the CIA run In-Q-Tel has more to do with getting early (and, if they want, exclusive) access to cutting-edge technology than with actually trying to influence the products the companies make (in terms of implementing back doors, etc.)

Although being a major investor does give you a lot of influence in a business, that influence tends to be on the business end of things, not the implementation end.

Plus, the CIA (and other spies) already have a tried-and-true method of influencing implementations of things, and whether they’re the major investors or not doesn’t really affect the method: the insider. Bribing an existing developer on the team of interest, or getting one of their own hired on that team, and having them make the desired change.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Enabling the spies

“Obama to Claper: “I would like you to stop the unconstitutional surveillance of Americans and friendly nations”.”

From all that I’ve read in Techdirt and other places, Obama is the one who is encouraging, enabling and directing this.

He’s part of the problem. Read the posts on that oversight committee he’s formed, and how they’re so close to each other it’s sickening. Rubberstamp stuff, indeed.

He’s all in favor of it. He likes this.

michael york says:

Personel Note

If we knew that it was all going to be saved, compiled
and analyzed, which we should have, allowed access to
make a compendium of of ourselves, given the power to
create a cyber-presence, we should take advantage of
this to create a presence which is communicating our
truthful intention, with humility, not caring if it is
all captured for the Evil Ones twisted plan. I look at
it as an opportunity to declare my view in spite of
the possible negative ramifications. If they come get
me for being me, then I’m willing to let them, knowing
that they are just filling up their own cup of vengeance,
later to be poured out on themselves, at the time appointed.

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