Google and Yahoo Latest Targets of NSA Spying

More news out of the Snowden camp, this time published in the Washington Post.

The international whistleblower’s newest leak has been released, and the document — which is dated January 9th of this year, details a program capable of sifting through terabytes of data on a daily basis. By linking into the fiber-optic backbone of internet search giants Google and Yahoo, the NSA and their British counterpart (the GCHQ) were able to absorb gobs of emails, internet searches, and browser histories without ever having to place official requests with the host governments of any given nation.

In a statement, Google said it was “troubled by allegations of the government intercepting traffic between our data centers, and we are not aware of this activity.” At Yahoo, a spokeswoman told the Washington Post: “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.” It seems neither company had a clue these sort of taps had been placed on their lines, as they were already in compliance with the PRISM program that was revealed back in June.

With PRISM, the NSA and GCHQ were allowed complete frontdoor access to any data they put an official request in for, as long as everything was taken care of above board and through the proper channels. What makes this  undertaking (codename MUSCULAR) different from others, is not only its scope, but its reach as well. Because much of the data being collected is being pulled from lines overseas, the legality of the process becomes much vaguer and the number of people capable of enforcing laws against it fewer and farther between.

Source: The Washington Post

Documents lifted from the NSA by the whistleblower refer to three collection efforts, titled “full take”, “bulk access”, and “high volume”. The names themselves are clue enough to suggest why overseas lines are a safer bet than anything back on domestic soil, where the “foreigner” clause of their agreement with the Justice Department still holds weight that can end with prosecutable offenses. Former NSA chief analyst John Schindler said it was obvious why the agency would prefer to avoid restrictions wherever possible.

“Look, the NSA has platoons of lawyers and their entire job is figuring out how to stay within the law and maximize collection by exploiting every loophole. It’s fair to say the rules are less restrictive under Executive Order 12333 than they are under FISA.”

As always, the best step you can take to avoid your data being swept up in these massive mining operations is simple: stop using the affected services. However as someone who uses Google Docs for nearly all my reporting and writing, along with a half-decade old Gmail address that would be painful to switch, I know firsthand that sometimes these things just aren’t possible.

In that case, your second move should always be to a reliable, safe, and well reviewed VPN provider courtesy of Thanks to our handy list of providers, you’ll never be left wondering if you got the best deal on your new network or if there is a better option waiting right around the corner.