October 15, 2013

The NSA buddy list

Now the Washington Post reveals that the NSA is collecting “hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world”, according to senior intelligence officials and top-secret documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The collection program, says the report, intercepts e-mail address books and “buddy lists” from instant messaging services as they move across global data links.

According to The Washington Post “during a single day last year, the NSA’s Special Source Operations branch collected 444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from unspecified other providers, according to an internal NSA PowerPoint presentation. Those figures, described as a typical daily intake in the document, correspond to a rate of more than 250 million a year. Each day, the presentation said, the NSA collects contacts from an estimated 500,000 buddy lists on live-chat services as well as from the inbox displays of Web-based e-mail accounts.”

The report emphasises that “although the collection takes place overseas, two senior U.S. intelligence officials acknowledged that it sweeps in the contacts of many Americans. They declined to offer an estimate but did not dispute that the number is likely to be in the millions or tens of millions”.

If there are so many Americans affected, and they say the program is not aimed at them, it would be interesting to know how many foreigners are being spied this way, in which countries and how many of them are innocent bystanders victims of the power of the Agency to spy using the new technologies. People who happen to be in the buddy list of a contact of a contact of a possible suspect or person of interest for the NSA. Just to avoid them if possible.

Now, with all the data revealed by the media it seems that the NSA is collecting data because they can do it and all we users of the Internet abroad are possible subjects of spying only because the technology is there available for the US Security Agency. Too much information in their hands. The only consolation is that the NSA is collecting so much data that is difficult to process, according to its own people, and they are having problems with spam, like everybody.

The NSA has a lot to explain to the American about collecting data belonging to Americans, but the US and the governments that are collaborating have also a lot to explain to the rest of the world. We, the free citizens using the new technologies to communicate must know what are the conditions of this space in which we are living. For starters, no longer a guarantee of privacy.

About Olga Brajnović

Journalist. In my fifties. I've worked for 26 years in a newspaper in Spain. I worked for two years as a stringer and correspondent in the US, and went as a special envoy to other places like the Balkans. Sea lover. Avid reader. Classic Music enthusiast.

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Americas, Ethics, Ideals, World and Politics

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