Fury over revelations spies hacked Google, Yahoo data
THE American National Security Agency (NSA) has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centres around the world, it has been reported.
The 'Washington Post' revealed the new tapping scandal is based on documents the newspaper obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
A secret account dated January 9, 2013, indicates that the NSA sends millions of records every day from Yahoo and Google networks to data warehouses at the agency's Fort Meade, Maryland headquarters.
In the last 30 days alone, collectors had processed and sent back more than 180 million new records – ranging from "metadata", which would indicate who sent or received emails and when, to content such as text, audio and video, the 'Post' reported on Wednesday.
The latest revelations were met with outrage from Google and triggered legal questions.
"Although there's a diminished standard of legal protection for interception that occurs overseas, the fact that it was directed apparently to Google's cloud and Yahoo's cloud, and that there was no legal order, as best we can tell, to permit the interception, there is a good argument to make that the NSA has engaged in unlawful surveillance," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Centre. The reference to 'clouds' refers to sites where the companies collect data.
The details about the NSA's access to Yahoo and Google data centres around the world come at a time when the US Congress is reconsidering their government's collection practices, and as European governments are responding angrily to revelations that the NSA collected data on millions of communications in their countries.
Details about the US government's programmes have been trickling out since Mr Snowden shared documents with the 'Post' and 'Guardian' newspapers in June.
The NSA's principal tool to exploit the Google and Yahoo data links is a project called MUSCULAR, operated jointly with the agency's British counterpart, GCHQ.
The 'Post' said NSA and GCHQ are copying entire data flows across fibre-optic cables that carry information between the data centres of the Silicon Valley giants.
The NSA has a separate data-gathering programme, called PRISM, which uses a court order to compel Yahoo, Google and other internet companies to provide certain data. It allows the NSA to reach into the companies' data streams and grab emails, pictures and more.
US officials have said the programme is narrowly focused on foreign targets, and technology companies say they turn over information only if required by court order.
In an interview with Bloomberg News, NSA director general Keith Alexander was asked if the NSA has infiltrated Yahoo and Google databases, as detailed in the 'Post' story.
"Not to my knowledge," said Mr Alexander. "We are not authorised to go into a US company's servers and take data. We'd have to go through a court process for doing that."