Surveillance – Basics

Surveillance – Basics

The NSA (National Security Agency), founded in 1952, is the USA’s signals intelligence agency, and the biggest of the country’s myriad intelligence organisations. It has a strict focus on overseas, rather than domestic, surveillance. It is the phone and internet interception specialist of the USA, and is also responsible for code breaking.

It is run by General Keith Alexander, who answers to Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. The NSA is overseen by congressional intelligence committees, who have security clearance, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which sits in secret.

GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) is the UK’s answer to NSA, and its predecessor organisations were founded in 1919. The very existence of the agency was not officially admitted until 1983. It is permitted to spy in the interests of national security, preventing serious crime, or defending the UK’s economic interests. The agency answers to foreign secretary William Hague, and has parliamentary oversight from the Intelligence and Security Committee, chaired by Sir Malcolm Rifkind.

Prism is a top-secret $20m-a-year NSA surveillance program, offering the agency access to information on its targets from the servers of some of the USA’s biggest technology companies: Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, AOL, PalTalk and Yahoo. The UK’s spy agency GCHQ has access to Prism data.

The UK’s GCHQ spy agency is operating a mass-interception network based on tapping fibre-optic cables, and using it to create a vast “internet buffer”, named Tempora . The content of communications picked up by the system are stored for three days, while metadata – sender, recipient, time, and more – is stored for up to thirty days. Metadata is effectively the “envelope” of a communcation: who it’s from, when it was sent and from where, and who it’s to, and where – but not the actual contents of the communication.

Phone collection
The very first story from the NSA files showed the agency was continuing a controversial program to collect the phone records (“metadata”) of millions of Americans – a scheme begun under President Bush. The scheme was widely believed to have been scrapped years before.

The program, which was re-authorised in July, allows the agency to store who Americans contact, when, and for how long. The agency is not, however, allowed to store the contents of calls.

“Upstream” refers to a number of bulk-intercept programs carried out by the NSA, codenamed FAIRVIEW, STORMBREW, OAKSTAR and BLARNEY. Like similar GCHQ programs, upstream collection involves intercepting huge fibre-optic communications cables, both crossing the USA and at landing stations of undersea cables.

Cracking cryptography
The NSA and GCHQ have been undertaking systematic effort to undermine encryption, the technology which underpins the safety and security of the internet, including email accounts, commerce, banking and official records.

Both agencies’ codenames for their ultra-secret programs are named after their countries’ respective civil war battles: BULLRUN for the NSA, and EDGEHILL for GCHQ.

Courtesy:- The Guardian