N.S.A. Collecting Millions of Faces From Web Images
The New York Times by By JAMES RISEN and LAURA POITRAS May 31, 2014
The National Security Agency is harvesting huge numbers of images of people from communications that it intercepts through its global surveillance operations for use in sophisticated facial recognition programs, according to top-secret documents.
The spy agency’s reliance on facial recognition technology has grown significantly over the last four years as the agency has turned to new software to exploit the flood of images included in emails, text messages, social media, videoconferences and other communications, the N.S.A. documents reveal. Agency officials believe that technological advances could revolutionize the way that the N.S.A. finds intelligence targets around the world, the documents show. The agency’s ambitions for this highly sensitive ability and the scale of its effort have not previously been disclosed.
Angry Birds and ‘leaky’ phone apps targeted by NSA and GCHQ for user data
• US and UK spy agencies piggyback on commercial data
• Details can include age, location and sexual orientation
• Documents also reveal targeted tools against individual phones
The Guardian / UK by James Ball January 28, 2014
The National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ have been developing capabilities to take advantage of “leaky” smartphone apps, such as the wildly popular Angry Birds game, that transmit users’ private information across the internet, according to top secret documents.
The data pouring onto communication networks from the new generation of iPhone and Android apps ranges from phone model and screen size to personal details such as age, gender and location. Some apps, the documents state, can share users’ most sensitive information such as sexual orientation – and one app recorded in the material even sends specific sexual preferences such as whether or not the user may be a swinger.
Many smartphone owners will be unaware of the full extent this information is being shared across the internet, and even the most sophisticated would be unlikely to realise that all of it is available for the spy agencies to collect.
Dozens of classified documents, provided to the Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden and reported in partnership with the New York Times and ProPublica, detail the NSA and GCHQ efforts to piggyback on this commercial data collection for their own purposes.
Scooping up information the apps are sending about their users allows the agencies to collect large quantities of mobile phone data from their existing mass surveillance tools – such as cable taps, or from international mobile networks – rather than solely from hacking into individual mobile handsets.
Exploiting phone information and location is a high-priority effort for the intelligence agencies, as terrorists and other intelligence targets make substantial use of phones in planning and carrying out their activities, for example by using phones as triggering devices in conflict zones. The NSA has cumulatively spent more than $1bn in its phone targeting efforts.
The disclosures also reveal how much the shift towards smartphone browsing could benefit spy agencies’ collection efforts.
One slide from a May 2010 NSA presentation on getting data from smartphones – breathlessly titled “Golden Nugget!” – sets out the agency’s “perfect scenario”: “Target uploading photo to a social media site taken with a mobile device. What can we get?”
The question is answered in the notes to the slide: from that event alone, the agency said it could obtain a “possible image”, email selector, phone, buddy lists, and “a host of other social working data as well as location”.
In practice, most major social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, strip photos of identifying location metadata (known as EXIF data) before publication. However, depending on when this is done during upload, such data may still, briefly, be available for collection by the agencies as it travels across the networks.
Depending on what profile information a user had supplied, the documents suggested, the agency would be able to collect almost every key detail of a user’s life: including home country, current location (through geolocation), age, gender, zip code, marital status – options included “single”, “married”, “divorced”, “swinger” and more – income, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education level, and number of children.
The agencies also made use of their mobile interception capabilities to collect location information in bulk, from Google and other mapping apps. One basic effort by GCHQ and the NSA was to build a database geolocating every mobile phone mast in the world – meaning that just by taking tower ID from a handset, location information could be gleaned.
A more sophisticated effort, though, relied on intercepting Google Maps queries made on smartphones, and using them to collect large volumes of location information.
So successful was this effort that one 2008 document noted that “[i]t effectively means that anyone using Google Maps on a smartphone is working in support of a GCHQ system.”
The information generated by each app is chosen by its developers, or by the company that delivers an app’s adverts. The documents do not detail whether the agencies actually collect the potentially sensitive details some apps are capable of storing or transmitting, but any such information would likely qualify as content, rather than metadata.
Data collected from smartphone apps is subject to the same laws and minimisation procedures as all other NSA activity – procedures that the US president, Barack Obama, suggested may be subject to reform in a speech 10 days ago. But the president focused largely on the NSA’s collection of the metadata from US phone calls and made no mention in his address of the large amounts of data the agency collects from smartphone apps.
The latest disclosures could also add to mounting public concern about how the technology sector collects and uses information, especially for those outside the US, who enjoy fewer privacy protections than Americans. A January poll for the Washington Post showed 69% of US adults were already concerned about how tech companies such as Google used and stored their information.
The documents do not make it clear how much of the information that can be taken from apps is routinely collected, stored or searched, nor how many users may be affected. The NSA says it does not target Americans and its capabilities are deployed only against “valid foreign intelligence targets”.
The documents do set out in great detail exactly how much information can be collected from widely popular apps. One document held on GCHQ’s internal Wikipedia-style guide for staff details what can be collected from different apps. Though it uses Android apps for most of its examples, it suggests much of the same data could be taken from equivalent apps on iPhone or other platforms.
The GCHQ documents set out examples of what information can be extracted from different ad platforms, using perhaps the most popular mobile phone game of all time, Angry Birds – which has reportedly been downloaded more than 1.7bn times – as a case study.
From some app platforms, relatively limited, but identifying, information such as exact handset model, the unique ID of the handset, software version, and similar details are all that are transmitted.
Other apps choose to transmit much more data, meaning the agency could potentially net far more. One mobile ad platform, Millennial Media, appeared to offer particularly rich information. Millennial Media’s website states it has partnered with Rovio on a special edition of Angry Birds; with Farmville maker Zynga; with Call of Duty developer Activision, and many other major franchises.
Rovio, the maker of Angry Birds, said it had no knowledge of any NSA or GCHQ programs looking to extract data from its apps users.
“Rovio doesn’t have any previous knowledge of this matter, and have not been aware of such activity in 3rd party advertising networks,” said Saara Bergström, Rovio’s VP of marketing and communications. “Nor do we have any involvement with the organizations you mentioned [NSA and GCHQ].”
Millennial Media did not respond to a request for comment.
In December, the Washington Post reported on how the NSA could make use of advertising tracking files generated through normal internet browsing – known as cookies – from Google and others to get information on potential targets.
However, the richer personal data available to many apps, coupled with real-time geolocation, and the uniquely identifying handset information many apps transmit give the agencies a far richer data source than conventional web-tracking cookies.
“They are gathered in bulk, and are currently our single largest type of events,” the document stated.
The ability to obtain targeted intelligence by hacking individual handsets has been well documented, both through several years of hacker conferences and previous NSA disclosures in Der Spiegel, and both the NSA and GCHQ have extensive tools ready to deploy against iPhone, Android and other phone platforms.
GCHQ’s targeted tools against individual smartphones are named after characters in the TV series The Smurfs. An ability to make the phone’s microphone ‘hot’, to listen in to conversations, is named “Nosey Smurf”. High-precision geolocation is called “Tracker Smurf”, power management – an ability to stealthily activate an a phone that is apparently turned off – is “Dreamy Smurf”, while the spyware’s self-hiding capabilities are codenamed “Paranoid Smurf”.
Those capability names are set out in a much broader 2010 presentation that sheds light on spy agencies’ aspirations for mobile phone interception, and that less-documented mass-collection abilities.
The cover sheet of the document sets out the team’s aspirations:
Another slide details weak spots in where data flows from mobile phone network providers to the wider internet, where the agency attempts to intercept communications. These are locations either within a particular network, or international roaming exchanges (known as GRXs), where data from travellers roaming outside their home country is routed.
These are particularly useful to the agency as data is often only weakly encrypted on such networks, and includes extra information such as handset ID or mobile number – much stronger target identifiers than usual IP addresses or similar information left behind when PCs and laptops browse the internet.
The NSA said its phone interception techniques are only used against valid targets, and are subject to stringent legal safeguards.
“The communications of people who are not valid foreign intelligence targets are not of interest to the National Security Agency,” said a spokeswoman in a statement.
“Any implication that NSA’s foreign intelligence collection is focused on the smartphone or social media communications of everyday Americans is not true. Moreover, NSA does not profile everyday Americans as it carries out its foreign intelligence mission. We collect only those communications that we are authorized by law to collect for valid foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes – regardless of the technical means used by the targets.
“Because some data of US persons may at times be incidentally collected in NSA’s lawful foreign intelligence mission, privacy protections for US persons exist across the entire process concerning the use, handling, retention, and dissemination of data. In addition, NSA actively works to remove extraneous data, to include that of innocent foreign citizens, as early as possible in the process.
“Continuous and selective publication of specific techniques and tools lawfully used by NSA to pursue legitimate foreign intelligence targets is detrimental to the security of the United States and our allies – and places at risk those we are sworn to protect.”
The NSA declined to respond to a series of queries on how routinely capabilities against apps were deployed, or on the specific minimisation procedures used to prevent US citizens’ information being stored through such measures.
GCHQ declined to comment on any of its specific programs, but stressed all of its activities were proportional and complied with UK law.
“It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters,” said a spokesman.
“Furthermore, all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework that ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position.”
• A separate disclosure on Wednesday, published by Glenn Greenwald and NBC News, gave examples of how GCHQ was making use of its cable-tapping capabilities to monitor YouTube and social media traffic in real-time.
GCHQ’s cable-tapping and internet buffering capabilities , codenamed Tempora, were disclosed by the Guardian in June, but the new documents published by NBC from a GCHQ presentation titled “Psychology: A New Kind of SIGDEV” set out a program codenamed Squeaky Dolphin which gave the British spies “broad real-time monitoring” of “YouTube Video Views”, “URLs ‘Liked’ on Facebook” and “Blogspot/Blogger Visits”.
A further slide noted that “passive” – a term for large-scale surveillance through cable intercepts – give the agency “scalability”.
The means of interception mean GCHQ and NSA could obtain data without any knowledge or co-operation from the technology companies. Spokespeople for the NSA and GCHQ told NBC all programs were carried out in accordance with US and UK law.
• This article was amended on 28 January 2014. It referred to martial status, instead of marital status. This has been corrected.
The Guardian / UK by Spencer Ackerman & Dan Roberts in Washington December 16, 2013
A federal judge in Washington ruled on Monday that the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records by the National Security Agency is likely to violate the US constitution, in the most significant legal setback for the agency since the publication of the first surveillance disclosures by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Judge Richard Leon declared that the mass collection of metadata probably violates the fourth amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, and was “almost Orwellian” in its scope. In a judgment replete with literary swipes against the NSA, he said James Madison, the architect of the US constitution, would be “aghast” at the scope of the agency’s collection of Americans’ communications data.
The ruling, by the US district court for the District of Columbia, is a blow to the Obama administration, and sets up a legal battle that will drag on for months, almost certainly destined to end up in the supreme court. It was welcomed by campaigners pressing to rein in the NSA, and by Snowden, who issued a rare public statement saying it had vindicated his disclosures. It is also likely to influence other legal challenges to the NSA, currently working their way through federal courts.
The case was brought by Larry Klayman, a conservative lawyer, and Charles Strange, father of a cryptologist killed in Afghanistan when his helicopter was shot down in 2011. His son worked for the NSA and carried out support work for Navy Seal Team Six, the elite force that killed Osama bin Laden.
In Monday’s ruling, the judge concluded that the pair’s constitutional challenge was likely to be successful. In what was the only comfort to the NSA in a stinging judgment, Leon put the ruling on hold, pending an appeal by the government.
Leon expressed doubt about the central rationale for the program cited by the NSA: that it is necessary for preventing terrorist attacks. “The government does not cite a single case in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent terrorist attack,” he wrote.
“Given the limited record before me at this point in the litigation – most notably, the utter lack of evidence that a terrorist attack has ever been prevented because searching the NSA database was faster than other investigative tactics – I have serious doubts about the efficacy of the metadata collection program as a means of conducting time-sensitive investigations in cases involving imminent threats of terrorism.”
Leon’s opinion contained stern and repeated warnings that he was inclined to rule that the metadata collection performed by the NSA – and defended vigorously by the NSA director Keith Alexander on CBS on Sunday night – was unconstitutional.
“Plaintiffs have a substantial likelihood of showing that their privacy interests outweigh the government’s interest in collecting and analysing bulk telephony metadata and therefore the NSA’s bulk collection program is indeed an unreasonable search under the fourth amendment,” he wrote.
Leon said that the mass collection of phone metadata, revealed by the Guardian in June, was “indiscriminate” and “arbitrary” in its scope. “The almost-Orwellian technology that enables the government to store and analyze the phone metadata of every telephone user in the United States is unlike anything that could have been conceived in 1979,” he wrote, referring to the year in which the US supreme court ruled on a fourth amendment case upon which the NSA now relies to justify the bulk records program.
Snowden welcomes ruling
In a statement, Snowden said the ruling justified his disclosures. “I acted on my belief that the NSA’s mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts,” he said in comments released through Glenn Greenwald, the former Guardian journalist who received leaked documents from Snowden.
“Today, a secret program authorised by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans’ rights. It is the first of many.”
Senator Mark Udall, a leading critic of the dragnet collection, welcomed the judgment. “The ruling underscores what I have argued for years: [that] the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records conflicts with Americans’ privacy rights under the US constitution and has failed to make us safer,” said Udall, a Democrat.
Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director of the ACLU, praised what he called Leon’s “thoughtful” ruling: “This is a strongly worded and carefully reasoned decision that ultimately concludes, absolutely correctly, that the NSA’s call-tracking program can’t be squared with the constitution.”
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said he had no comment on the on the case, saying he had not heard of the decision when the press briefing started and referred reporters to the Justice Department for reaction.
“We’ve seen the opinion and are studying it. We believe the program is constitutional as previous judges have found. We have no further comment at this time,” said Justice Department spokesman Andrew Ames.
News of the ruling came as the White House revealed that its review into NSA activities has made more than 40 separate recommendations in a report received by Barack Obama on Friday. Carney said the president would be reviewing the group’s conclusions before making their findings public. “Over the next several weeks we will be reviewing the review group’s report and its more than 40 recommendations as we consider the path forward, including sorting through which recommendations we will implement and which might require further study and which will choose not to pursue,” Carney said.
“We expect the overall internal review to be completed in January. After that, the president will deliver remarks to outline the outcome of our work and at that time we will make public the review group’s full report and other conclusions of our work.”
The White House also poured cold water on suggestions by an NSA official that whistleblower Edward Snowden could be offered an amnesty by the US in exchange for returning documents. “Our position has not changed on that matter – at all,” said Carney. “Mr Snowden has been accused of leaking classified information and he faces felony charges in the US. He should be returned to the United States as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process.”
Asked about the NSA official’s suggestion, the White House added: “He was expressing his personal opinion; these decisions are made by the Department of Justice. There has been no change in our position.”
In his ruling, Judge Leon expressly rejected the government’s claim that the 1979 supreme court case, Smith v Maryland, which the NSA and the Obama administration often cite to argue that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy over metadata, applies in the NSA’s bulk-metadata collection. The mass surveillance program differs so much from the one-time request dealt with by the 1979 case that it was of “little value” in assessing whether the metadata dragnet constitutes a fourth amendment search.
‘Defying common sense’
In a decision likely to influence other federal courts hearing similar arguments from the ACLU, Leon wrote that the Guardian’s disclosure of the NSA’s bulk telephone records collection means that citizens now have standing to challenge it in court, since they can demonstrate for the first time that the government is collecting their phone data.
“The government asks me to find that plaintiffs lack standing based on the theoretical possibility that NSA has collected a universe of metadata so incomplete that the program could not possibly serve its putative function,” Leon wrote. “Candor of this type defies common sense and does not exactly inspire confidence!”
Leon also struck a blow for judicial review of government surveillance practices even when Congress explicitly restricts the ability of citizens to sue for relief. “While Congress has great latitude to create statutory schemes like Fisa,” he wrote, referring to the seminal 1978 surveillance law, “it may not hang a cloak of secrecy over the constitution.”
The case will almost certainly be heard next by the US court of appeals for the District of Columbia circuit, recently bolstered with two new liberal justices following a change in Senate rules relating to confirmation votes. Were the appeal court to uphold the ruling, the Department of Justice would seek another stay, pending a final verdict from the US supreme court or a “bench” decision by all justices on the appeal court.
In his ruling on Monday, Judge Leon predicted the process would take six months. He urged the government to take that time to prepare for an eventual defeat. “I fully expect that during the appellate process, which will consume at least the next six months, the government will take whatever steps necessary to prepare itself to comply with this order when, and if, it is upheld,” wrote Leon in his opinion.
“Suffice it to say, requesting further time to comply with this order months from now will not be well received and could result in collateral sanctions.”
The three DC appeal court judges who will first hear the case are chosen are random from the bench, currently comprising 10 justices.
However, it may prove a test of new Obama appointees, Patricia Millett and Nina Pillard, who were confirmed by the Senate last week in the face of bitter opposition from Republicans who said the administration was trying to “pack the court” with like-minded justices. A third, Robert Leon Wilkins, awaits confirmation by the Senate.
Google finishes 2,048-bit security upgrade for Web privacy
Prodded by “concerns about overbroad government surveillance,” Google beat an end-of-year deadline to retire Web certificates with less secure 1,024-bit encryption keys.
C/NET News by Stephen Shankland November 19, 2013
Never again are you going to get a Google Web site whose security certificate is protected with comparatively weak 1,024-bit encryption.
The Net giant has secured all its certificates with 2,048-bit RSA encryption keys or better, Google security engineer Dan Dulay said in a blog post Monday. Certificates are used to set up encrypted communications between a Web server and Web browser.
That means two things. First, traffic will be harder to decrypt since 1,024-bit keys aren’t in use at Google anymore. Second, retiring the 1,024-bit keys means the computing industry can retire the technology altogether by declaring such keys untrustworthy.
Google has been aggressively moving to stronger encryption because of U.S. government surveillance by the National Security Agency. According to documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the agency gathered bulk data off Internet taps, including unencrypted data sent between company data centers on its own network, and actively worked to undermine encryption.
Google said it beat its internal end-of-year deadline for the 2,048-bit move. It’s also moved to encrypt its internal data transfer between data centers, a move that Yahoo also is making.
In other words, the Net’s technology giants are working actively to make surveillance, authorized or not, significantly harder.
“Worry in Silicon Valley/Puget Sound: furor over NSA will cost billions cuz foreign customers fear US companies can’t guarantee security,” tweeted Strobe Talbott, president of analyst firm Brookings Institution, referring to the geographic regions where tech powers such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, Twitter, Apple, LinkedIn, and Amazon are located.
Obama administration tight-lipped on NSA surveillance of allies
CBS News by Rebecca Kaplan October 28, 2013
The White House is under fire to explain exactly how much President Obama knows about U.S. surveillance programs in the wake of a Wall Street Journal article that suggested the National Security Agency (NSA) had been monitoring the phones of 35 world leaders until an internal Obama administration review discovered and ended the program.
“I don’t want to get into the specifics of how the president is briefed on different intelligence operations,” said Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes in an interview with CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett, regarding whether Mr. Obama knew about the monitoring. “What I will say is that he sets priorities as a commander in chief…he is briefed on a regular basis and the fact of the matter is what he’s focused on in the intelligence are threats. What is the state of counterterrorism around the world?”
Rhodes echoed White House spokesman Jay Carney’s briefing earlier Monday, stressing that the administration is in the process of reviewing its intelligence collection. One of the reason Rhodes declined to discuss whether Merkel’s phone was monitored was because the administration wants to deal with the larger question of how information is gathered and what constraints are placed on the collection, “not on an ad hoc basis,” he said.
“If we got into the business of briefing out every aspect of our intelligence operations we couldn’t operate with the necessary secrecy that intelligence gathering depends upon,” Rhodes said. “At the same time we can be more transparent about how we gather information.”
CBS News Senior National Security Analyst Juan Zarate said the president should know about surveillance programs at that level, and that it would be the responsibility of the Director of National Intelligence – currently James Clapper – to ensure that Mr. Obama knows the scope of what the intelligence community is doing.
Zarate also noted that Mr. Obama pledged to review Bush-era intelligence operations when he entered office, “so in some ways if the president didn’t know, shame on him, and shame on him and his leadership for not asking the question, but also it may not be believable [that he didn’t know] given the intensity and scope of this type of surveillance.”
“At the end of the day the administration is responsible for the programs and authorizes these programs so the president has to answer for them,” Zarate said.
The NSA, led by Keith Alexander, told CBS News senior correspondent John Miller, a former deputy director of national intelligence, that the president was never briefed in 2010 on any surveillance of Merkel.
NSA spying on foreign leaders: What did the President know about, and when?
“The way this works is the president gets the president’s daily briefing,” Miller said. “What you get in there is a lot of really good information that is meant to give American policy makers, starting with the president, what they call ‘decision advantage’ – which way are other people leaning, what are they thinking, what turmoil is going on inside their government, we call that the intelligence business.”
But the revelations about the surveillance is already straining U.S. relationships. “If you get the feeling that your closest allies spying on you, then that’s difficult to talk to such an ally in an open way anymore. And I think we have to make a clear distinction between fight together terrorism and not spying on friends,” said Elmar Brok, a German member of the European Parliament who had a closed-door session with House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., Monday morning. Brok added that if the German people – some of whom lived under the East German police state during the Cold War — feel like the U.S. was spying on all of them, “people do not love America anymore…that is a very damaging thing.”
“We’re not spying on everybody in Europe,” Rhodes said. “That’s a dramatic overstating of the situation.”
Brok said Germany will seek a “no-spying” pledge like the so-called “Five Eyes” agreement in which the U.S. and four other countries – the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – share intelligence but do not spy on one another. Rhodes said broadly that the U.S. is open to discussion with its European allies about how to better coordinate intelligence gathering. He also noted that there are already longstanding intelligence relationships that exist, and that U.S. intelligence has helped to foil terrorist plots in a number of European countries.
The frustration is reaching members of Congress as well. On Monday afternoon, Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called for a total review of all intelligence programs and said that the Senate had been inadequately informed of surveillance activities.
“With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of U.S. allies–including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany–let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed,” Feinstein said in a statement. “Unless the United States is engaged in hostilities against a country or there is an emergency need for this type of surveillance, I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers. The president should be required to approve any collection of this sort.”