Just when you thought the scale of the NSA's surveillance programs couldn't get more superlative, new details about a special software suite show that analysts can access "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet". If it uses HTTP, the NSA can get it.
The software's known as X-Keyscore, and it's gnarly. Not only does it let NSA agents and contractors like Edward Snowden (who leaked the documents detailing its existence) search the internet for a specific user, it also lets them learn the IP addresses of everybody who visited a particular website. Once users of interest are identified, X-Keyscore enables the agency to pull granular information on anything from email histories to social networking activity, even down to the user's buddy lists and specific chats.
Legally, X-Keyscore can't be used on Americans without a warrant, but as The Guardian's Glenn Greewald points out, there are no technical specifications that would prevent them from doing so. Greenwald explains:
Training materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.
XKeyscore, the documents boast, is the NSA's "widest reaching" system developing intelligence from computer networks…
So that's unsettling. It would be a bit presumptuous to assume that just because the NSA can do everything from read your Facebook chats to peruse the contents of your emails, it is doing those things. It also would've been presumptuous to assume that they were collecting phone records of millions of Americans. And we both know how that assumption shook out. [The Guardian via The Verge]