German Report: NSA Tracks Users Researching Privacy Software Online

Thursday, 24 Jul 2014 08:19 PM

By Andrea Billups

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A warning to those who might do a little online research about Internet privacy software: The NSA is tracking you, a report by the German public broadcasting group ARD concludes, according to a story published by The Independent.

Online users who search for such software, including the popular TOR, have their IP addresses logged by the National Security Agency and may be put on a list by the government for future monitoring. The spying was discovered through a review of leaked source code linked to the NSA's "XKeyscore" software.

Such software was described by exiled NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who says the government can use it to monitor "nearly everything" a user does online.

TOR, or The Onion Router, masks a user's online activity by bouncing through a computer network that makes tracking difficult to trace. It is free software that was funded originally by the U.S. military, the Independent noted.

But according to Wired, simply doing a private search is enough to flag you to the NSA as an "extremist,' a potential legal issue over the authority of the federal agency to track citizens who may have no interest in anything nefarious.

"Under [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] there are numerous places where it says you shouldn't be targeting people on the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment," Kurt Opsahl, deputy general counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Wired.

"I can’t see how this activity could have been properly authorized under FISA. This is suggesting then that they have come up with some other theory of authorizing this."

The findings also contradict longstanding NSA claims that its surveillance targets only those suspected of engaging in activity that threatens national security.

"They say, 'We're not doing indiscriminate searches,' but this is indiscriminate," Opsahl notes. "It’s saying that anyone who is looking for those various [services] are suspicious persons."

The NSA pushed back on any notion it was targeting citizens unfairly through XKeyscore, Computer World reported.

"The communications of people who are not foreign intelligence targets are of no use to the agency," the agency noted in a statement to ARD.

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