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NSA “Wants the Capacity to Listen to Everything”

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The Domestic Surveillance Directorate webpage that describes how the NSA's Utah Data Center works also says, "Your Data: If You Have Nothing to Hide, You Have Nothing to Fear."
The Domestic Surveillance Directorate webpage that describes how the NSA's Utah Data Center works also says, "Your Data: If You Have Nothing to Hide, You Have Nothing to Fear."
June 20, 2013

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The National Security Agency wants a system that can monitor all electronic communications, according to an expert on the agency.

The FBI director and the general heading the NSA are testifying to Congress that keeping phone call metadata - who called whom and for how long - has stopped numerous terrorist attacks. However, author James Bamford said the NSA has put technology in place that does a lot more.

Pointing to an AT&T whistleblower who revealed in 2006 that the agency was secretly bugging the backbone of the Internet, Bamford said the NSA is monitoring many different things.

"Our telephone records, our e-mail, our Google searches and so forth," he said. "This shouldn't be decided in secret. This should be decided publicly. We should have a right."

Internet companies deny letting the NSA see people's data, but Bamford said eight years ago a retired phone company technician disclosed a system of secret fiber optic splitters at a key AT&T juncture in San Francisco. Bamford said that could enable monitoring of all net traffic in the Northwest before it even got to the servers at Google or Microsoft.

The NSA has or wants the same thing for the rest of the nation, Bamford said, adding that they're using it for what's called deep-packet inspection - monitoring for key words and numbers.

"Trigger words - a name, a phrase, an address, a telephone number," he said. "They don't need their permission because they have access flowing in and out of the companies, since they already have access to the cables."

The NSA has a large satellite listening station in Sugar Grove, W.Va., but Bamford said it's winding down as communications have moved online.

Last year, Bamford reported that the NSA had a huge data center in Utah it was using to track phone records. The agency denied it, although leaks by NSA contractor Ed Snowdon later proved Bamford correct. He said he's surprised there hasn't been more outrage similar to gun owners' reaction to legislation to track gun sales.

"But at least that's done publicly. It's debated whether we should have it or not," Bamford said. "This is not debated. The government has access to all of your telephone records - and unlike guns, where only a certain percentage of the public has them, everybody has a telephone."

Agency defenders say little privacy has been lost, but Bamford is not reassured, contending that the NSA still operates in secret and has been dishonest with the public in the past.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV