The latest NSA revelation: XKeyscore

As promised, today’s Guardian has a front page story by Glenn Greenwald about yet another NSA program, this one called XKeyscore, an NSA tool that collects “nearly everything a user does on the internet”.

A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The purpose of XKeyscore is to allow analysts to search the metadata as well as the content of emails and other internet activity, such as browser history, even when there is no known email account (a “selector” in NSA parlance) associated with the individual being targeted.

This substantiates Edward Snowden’s claim that he and others like him could access the phone calls and email messages of anyone he liked, a claim that had been pooh-poohed by defenders of the NSA as being overly grandiose.

The files shed light on one of Snowden’s most controversial statements, made in his first video interview published by the Guardian on June 10.

“I, sitting at my desk,” said Snowden, could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email”.

US officials vehemently denied this specific claim. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden’s assertion: “He’s lying. It’s impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.”

Either Rogers was lying or the NSA has not told him what they are capable of doing, both of which are reasonable possibilities.

You can look at the slides of a presentation made by the NSA touting the program’s capabilities. In his article Greenwald walks you through the slides, translating the technical aspects into language understandable by lay people.


  1. Irreverend Bastard says

    even when there is no known email account (a “selector” in NSA parlance) associated with the individual being targeted.

    Even if you use proxies to avoid being identified by a unique IP address, there are other ways to identify you. Your browser configuration alone might be unique enough to identify you.

    Your browser fingerprint appears to be unique among the 3,182,970 tested so far.

    Currently, we estimate that your browser has a fingerprint that conveys at least 21.6 bits of identifying information.

    Both my Browser Plugin Details and my System Fonts are unique among 3,182,970.

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