Responding to the leak of its widespread Internet surveillance tech XKeyscore, which can apparently scan practically everything you do online, the NSA has tried to downplay the system. But there are some basic logical mistakes in its own argument.
The Guardian newspaper reported this week that, in addition to widespread global and domestic surveillance of phone calls, the NSA also has a distributed global surveillance network that could monitor what anyone is doing online. In its article the Guardian also suggested that analysts were playing fast and loose with the data, and that they could pretty much snoop on whoever's data they liked.
The NSA issued a press release that says the Guardian's allegations are "simply not true." Instead any analyst with access to XKeyscore--which is only those who "require access for their assigned tasks”--is subject to oversight and audit, and "no analyst can operate freely." Every search an analyst carries out is "proper and within the law."
The flaw in the NSA's statement rests on its use of the law as an arguing point. "It's all okay if it's legal" is the argument, but that presumes the law is in the genuine interests of the population. The statement also tries to hint that the surveillance isn't that widespread--how could it be if only assigned analysts can take part? Again, this argument is moot if thousands of analysts each make thousands of surveillance searches, because this situation would amount to de facto widespread surveillance, all of which is supposedly legal.
Perhaps it's not surprising then that the NSA's director was heckled by members of the audience at the Black Hat hacker's event yesterday. General Keith Alexander argued that the NSA's model was valid and worked to suppress terrorism, and that the agency's practices should serve as a model for other countries. He even asked hackers to help.
[Image via Flickr user: Andrew]