The NSA could have harvested information from fibre optic channels connecting Google data centres
Google has called for urgent reform after it emerged that the US National Security Agency (NSA) could have harvested information going through the fibre optic channels connecting its data centres. The same spying method was reportedly applied to Yahoo.
Classified documents disclosed by Edward Snowden and published in the Washington Post suggest that the data was collected outside the US, where the privacy guidelines are less restrictive, and then processed by an NSA programme codenamed ‘MUSCULAR’, operated in partnership with UK’s GCHQ.
Both companies say they have never offered this level of access to the spy agency and the Director of the NSA, Keith Alexander had previously denied the organisation was monitoring the servers of large US corporations.
Snowden, a former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor temporarily residing in Russia, made headlines across the world in May when he revealed the existence of several highly intrusive electronic surveillance projects run by the US government and its allies, including PRISM, which gives the NSA access to user accounts through secret court orders.
The latest set of documents disclosed by Snowden revealed that the agency was spying on at least 35 European leaders, including the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
According to the Washington Post, the NSA also intercepted millions of data exchanges going through the network infrastructure operated by Google and Yahoo, rather than their servers. It is understood that the information was captured outside the US, stored at the NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland and then analysed using MUSCULAR.
Both Google and Yahoo are clearly surprised that the NSA was able to tap into the fibre optic networks despite their best security measures.
“We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping, which is why we have continued to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links, especially the links in the slide,” Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond said in a statement.
“We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fibre networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform.”
Yahoo also denied it had ever given the NSA or any other government agency access to its data centres. Months earlier, it was one of the companies fighting to legally disclose figures on how many data requests for personal information they received from the government agency as part of the PRISM programme.
The NSA says that its massive surveillance operation was created in the name of “defending the nation”. In a statement, the agency denied it has been spying on US citizens.
“NSA applies Attorney General-approved processes to protect the privacy of US persons – minimizing the likelihood of their information in our targeting, collection, processing, exploitation, retention, and dissemination. NSA is a foreign intelligence agency. And we’re focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence targets only.”
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