NSA Legally Harvesting Facebook And Gmail Data From Offshore Data Centers

Obama NSA
It's a secret to nobody that the NSA invades the privacy of Americans daily, but what's astounding is how much they harvest and how few restrictions are placed on them. The Washington Post released an article on how the NSA takes advantage of offshore data centers to harvest from companies like Facebook and Google, who use those offshore centers to help distribute their traffic and data loads, and how these actions haven't been authorized by Congress…and don't need to be. 

The agency avoids the restrictions in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by intercepting contact lists from access points “all over the world,” one official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the classified program. “None of those are on U.S. territory.”

Because of the method employed, the agency is not legally required or technically able to restrict its intake to contact lists belonging to specified foreign intelligence targets, he said.

Should anyone be concerned that all of this questionably-obtained data would be misused, never fear: there are accountability measures in place.

A senior U.S. intelligence official said the privacy of Americans is protected, despite mass collection, because “we have checks and balances built into our tools.”

NSA analysts, he said, may not search within the contacts database or distribute information from it unless they can “make the case that something in there is a valid foreign intelligence target in and of itself.”

The Patriot Act provides a lot of the authority for the NSA to engage in these privacy invasions with little oversight or accountability. For their part, Google and Facebook did not opt in to this data collection.

“We have neither knowledge of nor participation in this mass collection of web-mail addresses or chat lists by the government,” said Google spokeswoman Niki Fenwick.

Facebook spokeswoman Jodi Seth said that “we did not know and did not assist” in the NSA’s interception of contact lists.

The NSA is reaping some small measure of karmic retribution, however.

Spam has proven to be a significant problem for the NSA — clogging databases with information that holds no foreign intelligence value. The majority of all e-mails, one NSA document says, “are SPAM from ‘fake’ addresses and never ‘delivered’ to targets.”


  1. crispy says

    Ohnos! The NSA knows I checked into the Korean Taco place and that I order lube from Amazon. I’m doomed!

  2. Mike says

    What!? The government reads everything I freely post on Facebook which the rest of the world can see? I’m shocked. I suppose next you’ll tell me my employer does that too.

  3. Burnsum says

    Actually, on Facebook (and most social networking websites) the whole world does not know what you post unless you allow them to. You can easily set your privacy settings to only allow your friends to see what you post (and even within your friends you can limit what they can see).

    And who knew Democrats were just as bad as Republicans when it comes to privacy issues.

  4. Mike says

    My point about Facebook is that a lot of people freely post every aspect of their lives out there and expect that it’s private. It’s not and it never has been. Facebook owns everything you post out there and they are free to do with it as they please. If you read the fine print before you hit “agree”, it’s all right there. The same is true with most third part email services. Legally the government isn’t reading your private information, they’re reading the legal property of Facebook.

  5. MaryM says

    It’s not Facebook and Gmail that is worrying – it’s that the US government is probably also trawling through our bank account information; medical information etc.

  6. Jay says

    “Legally” is a misconstrued term in this context. The NSA makes its own laws. Right now we got a Police State and it is safe to assume that there is no such thing as private data. For those who need secure communication, Applied Cryptography is a good book to get you started.

  7. Jay says

    By the way data is not only what anyone posts, but also any metrics they generate, including location data etc. Its been known that the NSA collaborates with local authorities to provide user data that incriminates them and then asking police to lie about how they got said data. Just imagine all the innocent people who get incriminated this way.

  8. Randy says

    If you build it, it will be corrupted.

    This is why we shouldn’t build crap like nuclear weapons, and massive spy agencies.