Tag: NSA

National Security Agency snoops are harvesting as many as 5 billion records daily to track mobile phones as they ping nearby cell towers across the globe.

That alarming scoop by The Washington Post via documents provided by NSA leaker Edward Snowden included wishful thinking from an unnamed government “intelligence lawyer” interviewed in the story. This official, according to the Post, said that the data “are not covered by the Fourth Amendment,” meaning a probable-cause warrant isn’t required to get it.

In reality, however, the case law on cell-site locational tracking — while generally favorable to the government — is far from clear, with federal courts and appellate courts offering mixed rulings on whether warrants are needed.

And it’s a big deal. As of last year, there were 326.4 million wireless subscriber accounts, exceeding the U.S. population, responsible for 2.3 trillion annual minutes of calls, according to the Wireless Association.

All the while, warrantless cell-phone location tracking has become a de facto method to snoop on criminals in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision that probable-cause warrants from judges are generally needed to affix covert GPS devices to vehicles.

Yet the mobile-phone location data issue has never been squarely addressed by the Supreme Court, and the dispute isn’t likely to be heard by the justices any time soon. All of which means that the legality of the latest crime- or terror-fighting method of choice is equally up in the air.

The high court in June rejected an appeal (.pdf) from a drug courier sentenced to 20 years after being nabbed with 1,100 pounds of marijuana in a motor home camper the authorities tracked via his mobile phone pinging cell towers for three days from Arizona to a Texas truck stop.

In that case, and without comment, the Supreme Court let stand a ruling from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The appeals court ruled that probable-cause warrants were not necessary to obtain cell-site data.

The appeals court had distinguished the case from the GPS decision decided by the Supreme Court two years ago. The high court had ruled that the physical act of installing a GPS device on a target’s vehicle amounted to a search, which usually necessitates a probable-cause warrant under the Fourth Amendment.

“Here, the monitoring of the location of the contraband-carrying vehicle as it crossed the country is no more of a comprehensively invasive search than if instead the car was identified in Arizona and then tracked visually and the search handed off from one local authority to another as the vehicles progressed. That the officers were able to use less expensive and more efficient means to track the vehicles is only to their credit,” the three-judge appellate panel of the 6th Circuit ruled 2-1.

According to the Post, “the NSA pulls in location data around the world from 10 major ‘sigads,’ or signals intelligence activity designators. A sigad known as STORMBREW, for example, relies on two unnamed corporate partners described only as ARTIFICE and WOLFPOINT. According to an NSA site inventory, the companies administer the NSA’s ‘physical systems,’ or interception equipment, and ‘NSA asks nicely for tasking/updates.’”

Regarding whether that’s legal, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — which covers Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas — in July sided with the government in a case involving three lower court rulings concerning unidentified suspects. A lower court said “compelled warrantless disclosure of cell site data violates the Fourth Amendment.”

The government argued that a mobile-phone company may disclose historical cell-site records created and kept by the company in its ordinary course of business, where such an order is based on a showing of “specific and articulable facts” that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the records sought are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation. A court warrant, on the other hand, requires the higher probable-cause standard under the Fourth Amendment. The appeals court agreed. (.pdf)

The government’s argument is based on a 1979 Supreme Court ruling upholding a Maryland purse snatcher’s conviction. The conviction and 10-year term came after the cops compelled the phone company to make a record of the numbers dialed by defendant Michael Lee Smith. A warrant, the high court reasoned, was not required because people do not have a reasonable expectation that the records they maintain with businesses would be kept private.

That same case has provided the legal justification for the NSA’s massive phone-metadata snooping program.

Still, another appellate court to have ruled on the issue was the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appellate court said in 2010 that the lower courts have the option to demand a warrant for cell-site data. The court covers Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Richard Bennet of Maryland last year cited the purse-snatching decision when declining to suppress evidence that Aaron Graham and Eric Jordan were allegedly involved in a string of Baltimore City fast-food restaurant robberies. They were arrested in connection to one robbery, and a 7-month historical look of their phone records placed them on the scene when other restaurants were robbed, the authorities said.

Bennet ruled:

For the following reasons, this Court concludes that the Defendants in this case do not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the historical cell site location records (.pdf) acquired by the government. These records, created by cellular providers in the ordinary course of business, indicate the cellular towers to which a cellular phone connects, and by extension the approximate location of the cellular phone. While the implications of law enforcement’s use of this historical cell site location data raise the specter of prolonged and constant government surveillance, Congress in enacting the Stored Communications Act, has chosen to require only ‘specific and articulable facts’ in support of a government application for such records.

That decision is on appeal with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Oral arguments are slated for next month.

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard the National Security Agency vehemently denying that its spy program is trampling on the constitutional rights of citizens, while privacy advocates bellow about the rise of Orwellian dictatorships. They do love trotting out the 1984 metaphors.

Frankly, there are hypocrisies on both sides. But retailers using data mining and loyalty programs, could get caught in the wringer if they don’t police themselves and those that gather the data. More disturbing is what I’ve heard in retail circles recently about reining in customer analytics for fear of incurring the wrath of privacy activists.

I sincerely hope that government surveillance is more concerned with terrorist plots than people’s personal proclivities. But surveillance isn’t new. It just went electronic with George Orwell’s vision of an authoritarian utopia and the Internet has simply made it easier.

The fact is that someone, somewhere keeps tabs on you from the time you’re born to when you open your first checking account, use your first credit card, switch on your first computer, or make your first cellphone call.

Contrary to popular opinion, the Constitution doesn’t guarantee the right to privacy, although the Supreme Court said it’s implied in several Amendments. This was brought to an illogical and frankly, dumb, conclusion in 2011 by the California Supreme Court in the case of Pineda v. Williams-Sonoma where the plaintiff alleged that the store lied about needing her zip code to complete a credit card transaction. She said it was used it to track down her home address for marketing purposes and that her information was being sold.

The takeaway is that where there’s a will, there’s a lawyer and a court that will consider the legal ramifications of a tempest in a teapot.

Where does that leave retailers? Customer surveillance, or customer analytics to use a gentler term, has become a rallying cry throughout the industry and one of the most valuable tools in the retail arsenal.

But the furor over the NSA’s actions, will likely unleash a spate of data privacy bills in Congress this year. The latest is the “Apps Act,” which requires consumers to sign off on privacy policies before using them. This moves the industry closer to European privacy laws, with very strict rules about what companies can and can’t do. At the very least, it’s another barrier between customers and the checkout. And, as we have seen, people will simply abandon their carts if the process becomes too cumbersome or inquisitive.

Congress simply isn’t capable of coming to grips with complex privacy issues. As I said, the industry is more than capable of policing itself and making the best use of the data for itself and its customers. But in the immortal words of comic book icon Stan Lee: “With great power comes great responsibility”.

Never take consumers for granted and don’t keep secrets. Tell them how the information helps create a better, more rewarding shopping experience. Assure them that the data is safe and not for sale to outsiders. Make sure all IT security systems are up-to-date—even surpassing industry norms—and initiate oversight of your own IT departments. Most important, don’t abandon data gathering for fear of backlash—real or imagined.

Collecting and analyzing shopper data is not an option. It is a business imperative for improving operations, sales and profits and anticipating customer demand. The competition for reliable information is intense, but cheaper to obtain from reliable outsiders then ever. Why not use it to its fullest?

Sometimes having a Big Brother watching is not such a bad thing.

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National Security Agency personnel regularly searched call tracking data using thousands of numbers that had not been vetted in accordance with court-ordered procedures, according to previously secret legal filings and court opinions released by the Obama administration Tuesday.

The agency also falsely certified to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that analysts and technicians were complying with the court’s insistence that searches only be done with numbers that had a “reasonable, articulable suspicion” of terrorism, according to a senior intelligence official who briefed reporters prior to release of the documents .

The unauthorized searches went on for about three years until they were discovered in March 2009.

An internal inquiry into the misstatements also found that no one at the NSA understood how the entire call-tracking program worked. “There was nobody at NSA who really had a full idea of how the program was operating at the time,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden disclosed the program in June by leaking a top-secret FISA Court order authorizing it. The program — sometimes referred to as “business records FISA” or “Section 215” — collected information on the time, duration and numbers connected in virtually every call made to, from or within the United States. It did not authorize or involve listening to calls, which required a separate court order when involving people in the U.S. or U.S. residents overseas.

Despite the regular assurances offered to the court, NSA personnel were querying every day’s new batch of telephone company calling data using an “alert list” that at times included about 17,000 numbers, the documents show. Most of the numbers on that list — about 15,000 — had not been established to meet the “reasonable, articulable suspicion, officials said.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper emphasized Tuesday that the breach of procedure was discovered by the NSA on its own initiative and, once the violation was found, was promptly disclosed to the court and Congress.

“The compliance incidents discussed in these documents stemmed in large part from the complexity of the technology employed in connection with the bulk telephony metadata collection program, interaction of that technology with other NSA systems, and a lack of a shared understanding among various NSA components about how certain aspects of the complex architecture supporting the program functioned,” Clapper said in a statement. “These gaps in understanding led, in turn, to unintentional misrepresentations in the way the collection was described to the FISC.”

However, the new disclosures give weight to claims that the FISA Court was ill-suited to oversee the complex program. The information could fuel calls for more rigorous oversight of the program.

In an opinion made public in part last month, Judge John Bates discussed the “alert list” practice in vague terms and said it indicated that the court’s orders “had been ‘so frequently and systematically violated that it can be said that this critical element of the overall…regime has never functioned effectively.’”

The breach clearly angered the judges serving on the court.

“The court is exceptionally concerned about what appears to be a flagrant violation of its Order in this matter,” Judge Reggie Walton wrote in a January 2009 order demanding more information about the offending practice.

The officials who briefed reporters Tuesday did not make clear where the “alert list” came from or precisely how numbers got on it. They did indicate it originated outside the NSA.

The court filings suggest that the “alert list” was something the NSA used when targeting communications between parties outside the United States under the agencies’ traditional, “signals intelligence” capabilities.

The practice was reported to the court in January 2009 and halted on the court’s order in March of that year.

As a result of the breach of the court’s orders, the FISA Court essentially put the NSA on probation by requiring it to come to the court in advance for permission for each new number to be searched, officials said. That advance-approval process — which did allow for exceptions in emergencies — continued through September 2009, officials added.

The fact that a process requiring advance, “case by case” approval was in place for a time could also support arguments from civil liberties groups and other critics that the courts should be involved each time a number is added to the list of those to be searched.

Officials emphasized that the “alert list” queries were not like the regular queries of the call database. Those often pored through five years of data and looked for patterns in calls that could be removed by up to “three hops” from the original number searched. By contrast, the “alert list” searches were confined to the incoming day’s data and numbers in direct contact with those searched.

“This was a much narrower, sort of rolling-basis query just to try to identify numbers of interest, so it didn’t go out multiple hops,” the senior official said.

The approximately court documents released Tuesday, which officials said totaled about 1,800 pages including some duplicates, were disclosed in connection with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The Obama administration long resisted calls to release the documents even in redacted form, saying they would be incoherent after sensitive information was deleted.

However, after Snowden’s leaks about the program, officials said they were reviewing the legal records again and would be able to make some disclosures. Officials said the document release Tuesday was being made at President Barack Obama’s instruction.

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Report: NSA can access most smartphone data

BERLIN (AP) — The U.S. National Security Agency is able to crack protective measures on iPhones, BlackBerry and Android devices, giving it access to users’ data on all major smartphones, according to a report Sunday in German news weekly Der Spiegel.

The magazine cited internal documents from the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ in which the agencies describe setting up dedicated teams for each type of phone as part of their effort to gather intelligence on potential threats such as terrorists.

The data obtained this way includes contacts, call lists, SMS traffic, notes and location information, Der Spiegel reported. The documents don’t indicate that the NSA is conducting mass surveillance of phone users but rather that these techniques are used to eavesdrop on specific individuals, the magazine said.

The article doesn’t explain how the magazine obtained the documents, which are described as “secret.” But one of its authors is Laura Poitras, an American filmmaker with close contacts to NSA leaker Edward Snowden who has published several articles about the NSA in Der Spiegel in recent weeks.

The documents outline how, starting in May 2009, intelligence agents were unable to access some information on BlackBerry phones for about a year after the Canadian manufacturer began using a new method to compress the data. After GCHQ cracked that problem, too, analysts celebrated their achievement with the word “Champagne,” Der Spiegel reported.

The magazine printed several slides alleged to have come from an NSA presentation referencing the film “1984,” based on George Orwell’s book set in a totalitarian surveillance state. The slides — which show stills from the film, former Apple Inc. chairman Steve Jobs holding an iPhone, and iPhone buyers celebrating their purchase — are captioned: “Who knew in 1984…that this would be big brother…and the zombies would be paying customers?”

Snowden’s revelations have sparked a heated debate in Germany about the country’s cooperation with the United States in intelligence matters.

On Saturday, thousands of people in Berlin protested the NSA’s alleged mass surveillance of Internet users. Many held placards with slogans such as “Stop watching us.”

Separately, an incident in which a German police helicopter was used to photograph the roof of the American consulate in Frankfurt has caused a minor diplomatic incident between the two countries.

German magazine Focus reported Sunday that U.S. Ambassador John B. Emerson complained about the overflight, which German media reported was ordered by top officials after reports that the consulate housed a secret espionage site.

A U.S. embassy spokesman downplayed the story, saying “the helicopter incident was, naturally enough, the subject of embassy conversation with the Foreign Ministry, but no demarche or letter of complaint about the incident was sent to the German government.”

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The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents.

The agency has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world, the documents show.

Many users assume — or have been assured by Internet companies — that their data is safe from prying eyes, including those of the government, and the N.S.A. wants to keep it that way. The agency treats its recent successes in deciphering protected information as among its most closely guarded secrets, restricted to those cleared for a highly classified program code-named Bullrun, according to the documents, provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.

Beginning in 2000, as encryption tools were gradually blanketing the Web, the N.S.A. invested billions of dollars in a clandestine campaign to preserve its ability to eavesdrop. Having lost a public battle in the 1990s to insert its own “back door” in all encryption, it set out to accomplish the same goal by stealth.

The agency, according to the documents and interviews with industry officials, deployed custom-built, superfast computers to break codes, and began collaborating with technology companies in the United States and abroad to build entry points into their products. The documents do not identify which companies have participated.

The N.S.A. hacked into target computers to snare messages before they were encrypted. In some cases, companies say they were coerced by the government into handing over their master encryption keys or building in a back door. And the agency used its influence as the world’s most experienced code maker to covertly introduce weaknesses into the encryption standards followed by hardware and software developers around the world.

“For the past decade, N.S.A. has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies,” said a 2010 memo describing a briefing about N.S.A. accomplishments for employees of its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. “Cryptanalytic capabilities are now coming online. Vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable.”

When the British analysts, who often work side by side with N.S.A. officers, were first told about the program, another memo said, “those not already briefed were gobsmacked!”

An intelligence budget document makes clear that the effort is still going strong. “We are investing in groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities to defeat adversarial cryptography and exploit Internet traffic,” the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., wrote in his budget request for the current year.

In recent months, the documents disclosed by Mr. Snowden have described the N.S.A.’s reach in scooping up vast amounts of communications around the world. The encryption documents now show, in striking detail, how the agency works to ensure that it is actually able to read the information it collects.

The agency’s success in defeating many of the privacy protections offered by encryption does not change the rules that prohibit the deliberate targeting of Americans’ e-mails or phone calls without a warrant. But it shows that the agency, which was sharply rebuked by a federal judge in 2011 for violating the rules and misleading the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, cannot necessarily be restrained by privacy technology. N.S.A. rules permit the agency to store any encrypted communication, domestic or foreign, for as long as the agency is trying to decrypt it or analyze its technical features.

The N.S.A., which has specialized in code-breaking since its creation in 1952, sees that task as essential to its mission. If it cannot decipher the messages of terrorists, foreign spies and other adversaries, the United States will be at serious risk, agency officials say.

Just in recent weeks, the Obama administration has called on the intelligence agencies for details of communications by leaders of Al Qaeda about a terrorist plot and of Syrian officials’ messages about the chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. If such communications can be hidden by unbreakable encryption, N.S.A. officials say, the agency cannot do its work.

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The Glendale Unified School District in Southern California outsources keeping tabs on troublemakers as well as identifying kids in trouble. At least these are its justifications.

Safety has rather become the mantra of authorities over the last few years.

Government exists, so we’re told, to keep the people safe. As opposed to, say, happy, employed, strong, proud or free.

A school district in Southern California is also committed to the safety of its kids. And, given that social media sites are where kids are at these days, it’s decided to keep tabs on every single public post its kids are making.

Naturally, the Glendale Unified School District doesn’t have the time to do this itself. So it’s hired an outside company to do its tab-keeping for it.

As CBS Los Angeles reports, the district chose Geo Listening, a company that specializes in following kids’ Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube feeds.

“The whole purpose is student safety,” the district’s superintendent Richard Sheehan told CBS.

So now every single piece of social blurting is now being watched by Big Geo.

Sheehan explained that the system works by looking for keywords. He gave examples of how potentially suicidal kids have been the subject of interventions thanks to the system.

Some, though, might feel a touch chilled by his description of the system’s breadth.

“We do monitor on and off campus, but we do pay attention during school hours. We do pay more attention to the school computers,” he said.

In legal terms, any public posting is fair game. The Geo Listening Web site helpfully explains: “The students we can help are already asking for you. All of the individual posts we monitor on social media networks are already made public by the students themselves. Therefore, no privacy is violated.”

Every single public posting made by every one of the district’s 13,000 students is being monitored, although the company insists it doesn’t peek at “privatized pages, SMS, MMS, email, phone calls, voicemails.”

Geo Listening says that its role is to provide “timely” information, so that a school can act, whether it’s a case of bullying, potential self-harm, vandalism, substance abuse or truancy.

However, the company is surely able to build up a huge trove of information about all individuals which, at least theoretically, might prove to be valuable (to someone) in the future.

What lazy, neurotic employer wouldn’t love to know if a potential hire was a school bully a few years ago? Might the employer be able to contact the school district and demand a record of all social media activity that took place in a potential employee’s youth?

When kids grow up, there will be parts of their lives they want to erase. Yet here will be records that keep that past alive.

The twin-pronged fork of surveillance is currently being examined for the potential of its worth.

The problem is that, ultimately, there are no guarantees — be it Google, the NSA or Geo Listening — about what information is actually being collected and how it might be used.

Why do you think that kids (and Wall Street) are so enamored with Snapchat?

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Seems like everything gets hacked these days. Baby monitors. White House employees’ personal email. Toilets.

If it’s connected to the Internet, it seems at least a little vulnerable.

But surely we can trust that workhorse selfie-generator, the iSight webcam built into the top bezel of Mac laptops. Or… Maybe not. Yesterday, security researchers Steve Glass and Christopher Soghoian were passing around a National Security Administration factsheet with a little bit of advice for Mac users on how to “harden” their computers to attacks.

Among the tips, we find the following suggestion: “Disable Integrated iSight and Sound Input.”

“The best way to disable an integrated iSight camera is to have an Apple-certified technician remove it,” the NSA writes (emphasis added). Then, you might try “placing opaque tape over the camera” or try the software-only method of removing one of the components of Quicktime’s files. And if the NSA doesn’t trust a particular piece of hardware can’t be used for surveillance, it’s probably safe to assume an average user shouldn’t either.

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Prior to President Obama’s press conference on potential surveillance reform today, two important stories were published showing National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance has gone farther than government officials have admitted publicly. Now that the President has promised transparency on NSA surveillance, it’s time for the NSA to come completely clean to the American public. They can start by explaining—in detail—how and why they are obtaining the content of communications transiting telecom networks, which then go into the databases behind NSA programs.

First, the background: on Thursday, the New York Times published a blockbuster story on its front page, detailing how the NSA “is searching the contents of vast amounts of Americans’ e-mail and text communications into and out of the country.” Today, the Guardian published more secret documents and an interview with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore) showing that the NSA has secret permission to search its vast databases of individual Americans’ communications without a warrant.

These stories add to the towering pile of revelations showing that the NSA and the administration are not being honest with the American public – not just omitting classified information, but affirmatively misleading. The government has implied, on numerous occasions, that the content program was narrow, and required a court order for United States persons.

The New York Times explained how the NSA could technically search such vast quantities of email:

Computer scientists said that it would be difficult to systematically search the contents of the communications without first gathering nearly all cross-border text-based data; fiber-optic networks work by breaking messages into tiny packets that flow at the speed of light over different pathways to their shared destination, so they would need to be captured and reassembled.

Sound familiar? That’s because we have known since 2006 that the NSA built a secret room in AT&T’s facilities in San Francisco to do this gathering (plus more). The facilities, including a bank of fiber optic splitters, make a copy of all communications traveling over AT&T’s fiber optic cables connecting AT&T’s network to the Internet.

AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein gave us blueprints and photos of the room, plus descriptions of the filtering and selection technologies inside at the time and we’ve been involved in two long running lawsuits over it ever since. Mark Klein’s evidence indicates several other facilities exist in the Western U.S. plus one in Atlanta. In addition, former NSA mathematician William Binney estimates the NSA did something similar in 10-20 key telecom switches around the country. NSA slides published by the Guardian confirm the NSA has this type of access, and the New York Times story this week just provides the latest evidence.

Nevertheless, the Administration has failed to engage in an honest debate about the splitters. Congress needs to pick up the ball and demand public answers, including:

-how many fiber optic splitters are in operation in the U.S.
-how many splitters (anywhere) divert the communications of U.S. persons?
-how much content is diverted each day? (measured by number of people, number of message, and number of petabytes).
-how much content is stored?
-what type of filters are used, and at what point in the process?

The time for vague dismissals of these charges, or vague, misleading discussions, has past.

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Among the snooping revelations of recent weeks, there have been tantalizing bits of evidence that the NSA is tapping fiber-optic cables that carry nearly all international phone and Internet data.

The idea that the NSA is sweeping up vast data streams via cables and other infrastructure — often described as the “backbone of the Internet” — is not new. In late 2005, the New York Times first described the tapping, which began after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. More details emerged in early 2006 when an AT&T whistleblower came forward.

But like other aspects of NSA surveillance, virtually everything about this kind of NSA surveillance is highly secret and we’re left with far from a full picture.

Is the NSA really sucking up everything?

It’s not clear.

The most detailed, though now dated, information on the topic comes from Mark Klein. He’s the former AT&T technician who went public in 2006 describing the installation in 2002-03 of a secret room in an AT&T building in San Francisco. The equipment, detailed in technical documents, allowed the NSA to conduct what Klein described as “vacuum-cleaner surveillance of all the data crossing the internet — whether that be peoples’ e-mail, web surfing or any other data.”

Klein said he was told there was similar equipment installed at AT&T facilities in San Diego, Seattle, and San Jose.

There is also evidence that the vacuuming has continued in some form right up to the present.

A draft NSA inspector’s general report from 2009, recently published by the Washington Post,refers to access via two companies “to large volumes of foreign-to-foreign communications transiting the United States through fiberoptic cables, gateway switches, and data networks.”

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A top German official accused the United States on Sunday of using “Cold War” methods against its allies, after a German magazine cited secret intelligence documents to claim that U.S. spies bugged European Union offices.

Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger was responding to a report by German news weekly Der Spiegel, which claimed that the U.S. National Security Agency eavesdropped on EU offices in Washington, New York and Brussels. The magazine cited classified U.S. documents taken by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that it said it had partly seen.

“If the media reports are accurate, then this recalls the methods used by enemies during the Cold War,” Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said in a statement to The Associated Press.

“It is beyond comprehension that our friends in the United States see Europeans as enemies,” she said, calling for an “immediate and comprehensive” response from the U.S. government to the claims.

Other European officials demanded an explanation from the U.S.

“I am deeply worried and shocked about the allegations,” European Parliament President Martin Schulz said in a statement, according to CNN. “If the allegations prove to be true, it would be an extremely serious matter which will have a severe impact on EU-US relations. On behalf of the European Parliament, I demand full clarification and require further information speedily from the U.S. authorities with regard to these allegations.”

The revelations come at a particularly sensitive time for U.S.-E.U. relations, as long-awaited talks about a new trade pact are scheduled to begin next week. It is unclear how the latest report on NSA spying are going to affect them, but the trade pact has been a centerpiece of the Obama administrations diplomatic efforts in Europe for some time.

According to Der Spiegel, the NSA planted bugs in the EU’s diplomatic offices in Washington and infiltrated the building’s computer network. Similar measures were taken at the EU’s mission to the United Nations in New York, the magazine said.

Der Spiegel didn’t publish the alleged NSA documents it cited or say how it obtained access to them. But one of the report’s authors is Laura Poitras, an award-winning documentary filmmaker who interviewed Snowden while he was holed up in Hong Kong.

The magazine also didn’t specify how it learned of the NSA’s alleged eavesdropping efforts at a key EU office in Brussels. There, the NSA used secure facilities at NATO headquarters nearby to dial into telephone maintenance systems that would have allowed it to intercept senior EU officials’ calls and Internet traffic, Der Spiegel report said.

Germany was allegedly the focus of the European spying, according to The Guardian, categorising Washington’s key European ally alongside China, Iraq or Saudi Arabia in the intensity of the electronic snooping.

During a trip through Europe two weeks ago, President Obama assured an audience in Germany that America is not indiscriminately “rifling” through the emails of ordinary European citizens, describing the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs as a “circumscribed” system that has averted threats in America, Germany, and elsewhere.

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger urged EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to take personal responsibility for investigating the allegations.

In Washington, a statement from the national intelligence director’s office said U.S. officials planned to respond to the concerns with their EU counterparts and through diplomatic channels with specific nations.

However, “as a matter of policy, we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations,” the statement concluded. It did not provide further details.

NSA Director Keith Alexander last week said the government stopped gathering U.S. citizens’ Internet data in 2011. But the NSA programs that sweep up foreigners’ data through U.S. servers to pin down potential threats to Americans from abroad continue.

Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” former NSA and CIA Director Mike Hayden downplayed the European outrage over the programs, saying they “should look first and find out what their own governments are doing.” But Hayden said the Obama administration should try to head off public criticism by being more open about the top-secret programs so that “people know exactly what it is we are doing in this balance between privacy and security.”

“The more they know, the more comfortable they will feel,” Hayden said. “Frankly, I think we ought to be doing a bit more to explain what it is we’re doing, why, and the very tight safeguards under which we’re operating.”

Hayden also defended a secretive U.S. court that weighs whether to allow the government to seize the Internet and phone records from private companies. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is made up of federal judges but does not consider objections from defense attorneys in considering the government’s request for records.

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