BRITISH SPIES ARE OPERATING AN EAVEDROPPING OPERATION THAT DWARFS THE USA SPY SAGA

BRITAIN HAS A SPY NETWORK WHICH OUTSTRIPS THE USA OPERATION

Security contractor Edward Snowden

London: British spies are running an online eavesdropping operation so vast that internal documents say it even outstrips the United States’ international internet surveillance effort, The Guardian newspaper says.

The paper cited UK intelligence memos leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden to claim that UK spies were tapping into the world’s network of fibre optic cables to deliver the “biggest internet access” of any member of the Five Eyes – the name given to the espionage alliance composed of the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

That access could in theory expose a huge chunk of the world’s everyday communications – including the content of people’s emails, calls, and more – to scrutiny from British spies and their US allies. How much data the British are copying off the fibre optic network isn’t clear, but it’s likely to be enormous.

The Guardian said the information flowing across more than 200 cables was being monitored by more than 500 analysts from the NSA and its UK counterpart, GCHQ.

“This is a massive amount of data!” The Guardian quoted a leaked slide as boasting.

The newspaper, whose revelations about America and Britain’s globe-spanning surveillance programs have reignited an international debate over the ethics of espionage, said GCHQ was using probes to capture and copy data as it crisscrossed the Atlantic between western Europe and North America.

It said that, by last year, GCHQ was in some way handling 600 million telecommunications every day – although it did not go into any further detail and it was not clear whether that meant that GCHQ could systematically record or even track all the electronic movement at once.

GCHQ declined to comment on Friday, although in an emailed statement it repeated past assurances about the legality of its actions.

“Our work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary, and proportionate,” the statement said.

Fibre optic cables – thin strands of glass bundled together and strung out underground or across the oceans – play a critical role in keeping the world connected. A 2010 estimate suggested that such cables are responsible for 95 per cent of the world’s international voice and data traffic, and The Guard-ian said Britain’s geographic position on Europe’s western fringe gave it natural access to many of the trans-Atlantic cables as they emerged from the sea.

The Guardian said GCHQ’s probes did more than just monitor the data live; British eavesdroppers can store content for three days and metadata – information about who was talking to whom, for how long, from where, and through what medium – for 30 days.

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GOOGLE REQUESTS NATIONAL SECURITY & INTERNET DRAGNET TO BE REDETERMINED

REDETERMINING GUIDELINES FOR INTERNET SECURITY SURVEILLANCE

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Google is asking the Obama administration for permission to disclose more details about the U.S. government’s demands for email and other personal information transmitted online in an effort to distance itself from an Internet dragnet.

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In a show of unity, Google rivals Microsoft Corp. and Facebook Inc. also supported the attempt to pressure the U.S. Justice Department to loosen the legal muzzle that limits disclosures about government surveillance authorized by courts to protect national security.

Google made its plea in a Tuesday letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller. Google is trying to debunk media reports that the company has created a way for the National Security Agency to gain access to large amounts of its users’ online communications as part of a secret program code-named “PRISM.”

The reports surfaced last week after a government contractor leaked confidential documents revealing the NSA has been tapping into the computers of Google Inc. and many other Internet services to retrieve information about foreigners living outside the U.S. The other companies linked to PRISM are: Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo Inc., Apple Inc., AOL Inc., Paltalk, Google’s YouTube and Microsoft’s Skype.

All the companies and services have denied giving the U.S. government unfettered access to user data. The companies say they only turn over user data under legally binding orders, and try to regularly resist orders considered to be too broad.

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Minimizing the appearance of their involvement in PRISM is important to the technology companies. The companies don’t want Web surfers to become paranoid about sharing personal information on their services or, worse yet, avoiding their websites altogether. Attracting big audiences helps the companies sell more advertising. Those ads command higher prices and run more frequently when the companies are able to decipher personal data and determine which parts of the audience are most likely to be interested in certain products.

The stakes are particularly high for Google, which sold $44 billion in digital advertising last year alone.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence for the Obama administration, last week confirmed PRISM had been approved by a judge and is being conducted in accordance with U.S. law. He hasn’t listed the companies cooperating. Those identifications came from the PRISM documents leaked to The Washington Post and The Guardian, a British newspaper.

Even while acknowledging PRISM’s existence, Clapper has insisted the scope of its surveillance has been more limited than depicted in published reports.

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Google also portrayed itself as an unwitting participant in the program. Executives at the Mountain View, Calif., company maintain that they didn’t know about PRISM until reading about it for the first time last week. Google insists it hasn’t been handing over user data on a broad scale, something the company believes it can prove if it receives clearance to disclose the number of requests that have been submitted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

Federal law currently prohibits recipients of FISA requests from revealing information about them.

“Google’s numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made,” David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, wrote to Holder and Mueller. “Google has nothing to hide.”

In its own statement, Microsoft said it also wants to be more forthcoming if the Justice Department would allow it.

“Permitting greater transparency on the aggregate volume and scope of national security requests, including FISA orders, would help the community understand and debate these important issues,” the Redmond, Wash. company said.

Ted Ullyot, Facebook’s general counsel, said the social networking leader wants to provide “a complete picture of the government requests we receive, and how we respond.”

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Henry Sapiecha

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WORRIED THAT GOVERNMENTS CAN LISTEN IN ON YOUR CALLS & MONITOR YOUR INTERNET USE, THEN READ THIS.

How to shield your calls and internet activity from government surveillance

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If you have followed the startling revelations about the scope of the US government’s surveillance efforts, you may have thought you were reading about the end of privacy. But even when faced with the most ubiquitous of modern surveillance, there are ways to keep your communications away from prying eyes.

A new frontier of sweeping secret surveillance is not a conspiracy theory but a burgeoning reality. 

First, instead of browsing the internet in a way that reveals your IP address, you can mask your identity by using an anonymising tool such as Tor or by connecting to the web using a Virtual Private Network, or VPN.

Additionally, you can avoid Google search by using an alternative such as Ixquick, which has solid privacy credentials and says it does not log any IP addresses or search terms or share information with third parties.

When it comes to sending emails, if you are using a commercial provider that has been linked to the PRISM spy initiative, you can throw a spanner in the NSA’s works by learning how to send and receive encrypted emails. PGP or its free cousin GPG are considered the standard for email security, and these can be used to both encrypt and decrypt messages – meaning you can thwart surveillance unless you are unlucky enough to have Trojan spyware installed on your computer.

Novice computer users learning how to use PGP or GPG may find it daunting at first, but there are plenty of tutorials online for both Mac and Windows users that can help guide you through the process. For journalists working with confidential sources, attorneys seeking to ensure attorney-client privilege, or others whose work requires secure communications, learning how to use PGP or GPG is an absolute necessity. Organisations seeking to protect themselves from email grabs could go one step further: they could take more control of their messages by setting up their own email server instead of relying on a third-party service, helping ensure no secret court orders can be filed to gain covert access to confidential files. And if you need to store private documents online, you can use Cloudfogger in conjunction with Dropbox.

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For instant messaging and online phone or video chats, you can avoid Microsoft and Google services such as Skype and G chat by adopting more secure alternatives. Jitsi can be used for peer-to-peer encrypted video calls, and for encrypted instant message chats you can try using an “off the record” plugin with Pidgin for Windows users or Adium for Mac. Like using PGP encryption, both Pidgin and Adium can take a little bit of work to set up – but there are tutorials to help ease the pain, such as this for setting up Adium and this tutorial for Pidgin.

As for phone calls, if you want to shield against eavesdropping or stop the NSA obtaining records of who you are calling and when, there are a few options. You could use an encryption app such as Silent Circle to make and receive encrypted calls and send encrypted texts and files, though your communications will be fully secure only if both parties to the call, text or file transfer are using the app. Other than Silent Circle, you could try RedPhone (Android and iOS) for making encrypted calls or TextSecure for sending encrypted texts.

A new frontier of sweeping secret surveillance is not a conspiracy theory but a burgeoning reality. But it is not an Orwellian dystopia – at least, not yet. Tools to circumvent government monitoring exist and are freely available. The onus is on us as individuals to learn how to use and adopt them.

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Henry Sapiecha
blue cam line