NSA spying on social links

Edward Snowden. Photo / AP
Edward Snowden. Photo / AP

For almost three years the National Security Agency has been tapping the data it collects to map out some Americans' social connections, allowing the Government to identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their travelling companions and other personal information, the New York Times reported.

Citing documents provided by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden, the New York Times reported that the NSA began allowing the analysis of phone call and email logs in November 2010 to examine some Americans' networks of associations for foreign intelligence purposes after NSA officials lifted restrictions on the practice.

A January 2011 memorandum from the spy agency indicated that the policy shift was intended to help the agency "discover and track" connections between intelligence targets overseas and people in the US, the New York Times reported.

The documents Snowden provided indicated that the NSA can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data, the paper reported.

NSA officials declined to say how many Americans have been caught up in the effort, including people involved in no wrongdoing, the paper reported. The documents do not describe what has resulted from the scrutiny, which links phone numbers and emails in a "contact chain" tied directly or indirectly to a person or organisation overseas that is of foreign intelligence interest, the paper reported.

The documents provided by Snowden don't specify which phone and email databases are used to create the social network diagrams, and NSA officials wouldn't identify them. However, NSA officials said the large database of Americans' domestic phone call records revealed in June was not used, the paper reported.

Meanwhile, the Indian High Commission in London has reverted to using typewriters to compose sensitive documents following the NSA spying scandal.

Officials also apparently step out of the embassy's premises in Aldwych to discuss sensitive matters in order to dodge "dedicated" satellites and possible bugs installed on the premises.

"Top secret cables are now written on typewriters which cannot be tracked," Jamini Bhagwati, the Indian High Commissioner to London, told the Times of India.

He said that no classified information was disclosed inside the embassy building and bemoaned the fact that it was "tedious" to go out into the garden every time something sensitive needed discussing.

Such protective measures follow the disclosure by Snowden that the NSA had bugged India's Permanent Mission at the UN in New York and its embassy in Washington.

- AP

- Daily Telegraph UK

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