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Officials: NSA's PRISM Targets Email Addresses, Not Keywords 96

Posted by samzenpus
from the the-list-you-don't-want-to-be-on dept.
wiredmikey writes "The US government's PRISM Internet spying program exposed by Edward Snowden targets suspect email addresses and phone numbers but does not search for keywords like terrorism, officials said Wednesday. Top lawyers of the country's intelligence apparatus including the NSA and FBI participated Wednesday in a public hearing on the controversial US data-mining operations that intercept emails and other Internet communications including on social media networks like Facebook, Google or Skype. 'We figure out what we want and we get that specifically, that's why it's targeted collection rather than bulk collection,' Robert Litt, general counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told the hearing. Under authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the NSA asks Internet service providers to hand over messages sent from or received by certain accounts such as terrorist@google.com, the Justice Department's Brad Wiegmann said, using a hypothetical example."
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Officials: NSA's PRISM Targets Email Addresses, Not Keywords

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @07:05PM (#46528933)

    Or is this like Clapper said: we only call it "collected" when we look at it. It's not collected yet when we save it in our datacenter with everything else.

    • Of course they ask ISPs to hand over stuff by email addresses, etc.

      How do they select those email addresses? Because that's the bit we're actually talking about. The Snowden docs suggest it's by automatically inspecting everything and applying selectors to find the interesting stuff. IMO that's dragnet surveillance.

    • by TheCarp (96830)

      Perhaps it is true in the sense that PRISM doesn't do this, and there is something else by another name that does it. Not they are not saying "We don't do this at all" what they are saying is "PRISM" doesn't do it.

      If so, then they are stepping up their game on the treasonous lies.

  • by kruach aum (1934852) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @07:07PM (#46528957)

    to the public, when the Snowden documents show they've been lying for years.

    • to the public, when the Snowden documents show they've been lying for years.

      Not to argue your fundamental point, but AFAICT they haven't been lying for years they've been saying nothing for years. They have lied recently, though, and internally they've been using carefully-crafted definitions to interpret the law in ways that allowed them to convince themselves they were obeying it. So, in essence they've been fooling themselves for year, but not actually lying to the public because they haven't been saying anything to the public.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Yes. And the carefully crafted definition in this case is that "PRISM targets email addresses". Seeing as PRISM requests are the ones sent to providers (which they probably only send in cases where they want to be absolutely certain they have got everything possible. Or provide deniability for the true source being fibre-taps) then this is pretty self explanatory. It does not deny that the other programs which (for example) tap fibre-optic cables do match on keywords.

        • I would guess that what they really mean is PRISM captures and stores everything, but their agents are under orders only to look at specified email addresses. Probably with an audit trail if they go beyond this.

      • um, no. Actually they have been lying for years.

        • by swillden (191260)

          um, no. Actually they have been lying for years.

          Cite? I've looked and other than Alexander's recent statements to Congress, I don't see any lies. It's possible they've been lying in closed-door sessions for years, but we have no evidence of that.

      • "Not to argue your fundamental point, but AFAICT they haven't been lying for years they've been saying nothing for years. "

        As you just pointed out, apparently unwittingly, they have been lying [wikipedia.org] for years.

      • Try using "I didn't lie, I just didn't tell you" defense with your wife and see how that goes for you.
      • Lying by omission is still lying.

        • by swillden (191260)

          Lying by omission is still lying.

          Depends on the context. If you're asked in a context where you should answer and you leave something out, yes. But if you're not even asked, you don't typcially have an obligation to volunteer information.

    • As has been portrayed to all of us, lying to the congress, even under oath, is not a crime, as long as you can proof that you are part of the spook network, and/or in charge of the "security" of the nation.

      We have become a country where the laws no longer apply to certain *special privileged* people.

  • Because I doubt the real "terrorists" would send out emails like:
    "OMG I can't wait until we commit our terrorist act in NYC on 9-11! It's such an exciting time to be a jihadi terrorist! GG TERRORISM!"

    • No, they'd certainly obfuscate it. For example, they'd change the date to 9-12.

    • You beat me to the punch. That was the first thing I thought. It's not like they even think of themselves as terrorists. (Either the US governement or Al Queda)
  • >but does not search for keywords like terrorism

    Mail from Bob:
    >Hey Alice, wanna go do some terroism next monday?
    I can't I'm busy, how about we terrorism on tuesday?
    Take care,
    Alice
    • Shouldn't Bob be asking Mallory about a terrorism date next monday? Or is Mallory the NSA? I'm confused... can someone provide a car-centric metaphor?

      • by dave562 (969951)

        Mail from Bob:

        Hey Alice, I have teh car bombz ready for the infidelz. You got Mallory hooked up on the jihadi kick yet? We need a driver.

  • We totally believe you. Why would you lie to us?
    • And who would we be to question a government employee? I mean, if you can't trust your government, who can you trust?

  • "certain accounts such as terrorist@google.com"

    I wish i'd thought of registering that! Not that i'd use it for my primary account, but it would be fun to use on occasion, and i'm sure some really weird stuff gets sent there.
    • by Daetrin (576516)
      To: terrorist@google.com Subject: Do you want to build a snowman?
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Yes! Then the snowman can chill in his snowden.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Snowperson! Insensitive clod!

    • by PPH (736903)

      Get an e-mail account like name@jihad.com. Anyone puts you on a spam distribution list and you can just sit back and wait for the NSA/CIA/FBI to "take care" of the problem for you.

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @07:54PM (#46529355)

    Are we really supposed to believe that they put in a system that can scan emails at major email providers and even scan emails on the fly at internet exchange points, yet they didn't design the system to allow keyword scanning?

    If they are really targeting specific email addresses, then why do they need the system at all? Just get warrants and get the data from the user's ISP.

    • PRISM doesn't do that. We just don't know the codename of the system that does.
      • by AHuxley (892839)
        Re just get "Just get warrants and get the data from the user's ISP" and "codename of the system that does"
        Lets say you have members of the US press finding/requesting/sorting/working on/publishing using freedom of information documents, interviews, other documents open to the public...
        You cant get a warrant just because the US press is been too smart and working too hard.
        For that you need something classic like FIRST FRUITS
        http://cryptome.org/nsa-heroes... [cryptome.org] ".....maintains a database that tracks unoffi
  • by Anonymous Coward

    What a relief! At least they know the target is guilty before they start surveillance.

    • by arth1 (260657)

      What a relief! At least they know the target is guilty before they start surveillance.

      Yes, and as guilt can be determined by TLA employees, it would save We The People a lot of money to dispense with the whole judiciary branch. It's clearly pointless.

  • Official: "The US government's PRISM Internet spying program exposed by Edward Snowden targets suspect email addresses and phone numbers but does not search for keywords like terrorism."

    Public: "So, how many email addresses and phone numbers are suspect?"

    Official: "Er... Well, all of them..."

  • by dave562 (969951) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @10:37PM (#46530565) Journal

    The NSA has taps on the backbone, and they want us to believe that they are only searching for specific email addresses? Give me a break. Email addresses are way too easy to setup and discard. Any spy / terrorist with any modicum of trade craft training is going to go through email addresses like a fat girl goes through ice cream.

    If people are really using email to coordinate attacks against the United States, then by all means go after them. But please, stop treating us like we are stupid. Do not piss on my leg and tell me it is raining. The NSA got caught, at least man up to it. What is the line the cops use? "Just tell me the truth, and I will get the DA to take it easy on you." ???

  • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @04:31AM (#46531785) Homepage

    Hey Steve,

    You wanna go out this weekend and do some terrorism?

    Jeff

  • Snowden even published the keyword list. To lazy to search for it know, but it was a big honor for the CCC, when it found itself on the list ;).

  • The blogger Empty Wheel had a pretty good running account of this. Naturally, most of the time was taken up pinning the weasels down on their florid and disingenuous definitions of terms such as 'search' and 'query' and even 'bulk', FFS.
  • by wcrowe (94389) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @12:08PM (#46535147)

    If all they are collecting are email addresses and phone numbers, why do they need such a ginormous new data center in Utah?

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