The US National Security Agency has tapped directly into communications links used by Google and Yahoo to move huge amounts of e-mail and other user information among overseas data centres, the Washington Post reported yesterday.
The report, based on secret NSA documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden, appears to show the agency has used weak restrictions on its overseas activities to exploit major US companies' data to a far greater extent than realised.
Previously reported programmes included those that allowed easy searches of Google's, Yahoo's and other internet giants' material based on court orders. But since the interception in the newly disclosed effort, code named Muscular, which occurs outside the US, there is no oversight by the secret intelligence court.
The Post said the operation gained access to a cable or switch that relayed the traffic through an unnamed telecommunications provider.
"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," said Google chief legal officer David Drummond. Google said it had not been aware of the programme, although it recently began speeding its efforts to encrypt internal traffic.
Like other companies, Google and Yahoo constantly send data over leased and shared or exclusive international fibre-optic telecommunication lines as they synchronise information.
The newly disclosed programme, operated jointly with the UK's Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, amassed 181 million records in one recent 30-day span, according to the Post. It could not be learnt how much of that included material from US residents, how the agency redacted data on them or how much of the information was retained.
An NSA spokesperson said the suggestion in the article that the agency relied on a presidential order on foreign intelligence gathering to skirt domestic restrictions imposed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and other laws "is not true".
"The assertion that we collect vast quantities of US persons' data from this type of collection is also not true. NSA is a foreign intelligence agency. And we're focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence targets only."
NSA Director General Keith Alexander said he had not read the article but the agency did not have unfettered access to Google and Yahoo servers. "We go through a court order."
He did not directly address whether the agency intercepts such traffic in transit.
The NSA is known to tap undersea cables.
A Yahoo spokeswoman said, "We have strict controls in place to protect the security of our data centres and we have not given access to our data centres to the NSA or to any other government agency."
Yahoo will begin encrypting users' e-mail in January but it declined to say whether it would go further and keep e-mail encrypted as it moves within Yahoo. - Reuters
WASHINGTON: The National Security Agency, responsible for US electronic eavesdropping, said yesterday it did not target the Vatican and called an Italian media report that it had done so "not true".
Panorama magazine said yesterday the NSA had eavesdropped on Vatican phone calls, possibly including when former pope Benedict's successor was under discussion.
"The National Security Agency does not target the Vatican," NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said in a statement. - Reuters