Have you ever wondered if you’re on an NSA observation list? Turns out that if you’ve even thought about it (or online privacy in general), you’re probably more likely to be on one. A few concerning news updates regarding mass surveillance by the NSA within the past week, including revelations from an analysis of the XKeyscore data collection system, have given us an idea of who might be among the NSA’s “targeted” individuals.
Are You on the List?
In previous documents, interviews, and other now-public materials, the NSA has stated that, while they can collect data from nearly anyone, they only target a small number of people who could be engaged in suspicious activity. Exactly what constitutes suspicious activity has never been very clear, but it’s safe to assume that anyone trying to get in touch with a terrorist organization, buy drugs online, or be in another way clearly intending to break the law, would be a target.
Turns out that a lot of things can get you on the list, including visiting a number of privacy-related websites, or even running searching for privacy-related tools. For example, a recent analysis of an alleged piece of XKeyscore code revealed that people would be targeted for surveillance if they searched for articles on TAILS, a secure operating system. The code states that TAILS is “advocated by extremists on extremist forums.” (I wonder if they know that it’s also advocated as a very secure Linux distro by tech writers on MakeUseOf.)
Unsurprisingly, searches for Tor also land people on the targeted surveillance list. Other apps that make an appearance include “HotSpotShield, FreeNet, Centurian, FreeProxies.org, MegaProxy, privacy.li and an anonymous email service called MixMinion as well as its predecessor MixMaster.” (daserste.de)
It’s reasonable to assume that VPNs, encryption software, and other security-related apps and services will also earn you a spot on the surveillance list.
If this is the case, it seems likely that a huge number of MakeUseOf readers are already being monitored, and many more will be on the list before long.
How Do We Know About XKeyscore?
Hearing something like this might make you wonder about the source of the information that has a lot of security experts riled up. The XKeyscore program was first detailed in Edward Snowden’s revelations, and has been profiled a number of times since then (here’s a good overview of XKeyscore from The Guardian). In short, it’s a system that allows NSA employees to search a massive database of collected information, including e-mail, and allows for the monitoring of real data, not just meta-data.
The XKeyscore code that’s making waves at the moment was first published in a German publication called Taggeschau, though they declined to state where the information came from. There was nothing to indicate that the code came from documents released last year by Snowden, leading a number of leading privacy and security experts to speculate that there is now a second NSA leaker.