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Americas

US monitors ‘nearly everything’ online with 'XKeyscore'

©

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-07-31

A programme known as XKeyscore allows the US to monitor "nearly everything” a target does on the internet, leaked documents revealed Wednesday, as the US aimed to do damage control by declassifying details of its data-gathering processes.

A secret US programme known as XKeyscore allows intelligence services to monitor "nearly everything” a user does on the Internet, according to leaked documents published Wednesday.

Citing classified documents provided by fugitive former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, the British daily “Guardian” said the programme was the most wide-reaching operated by the US National Security Agency.

“The Guardian” published slides from what appears to be internal US intelligence training materials describing the capabilities of the XKeyscore programme. Marked "Top Secret" and restricted to authorised personnel, the slides were produced in 2007 and not due to be declassified until 2032.

According to the revelations, XKeyscore allows US agents to monitor the emails, Web history, internet searches and social media use – virtually any online activity – of a target in real time.

"No other system performs this on raw unselected bulk traffic," the document states.

XKeyscore does not require an intelligence analyst to have a "strong selector", such as an email address, to find his target – instead, agents can work backwards from a general search to find an individual.

If someone is using an unusual language for the area, such as German in Pakistan, or using Google Maps to scout targets for an attack, the programme can isolate and track that data.

It is illegal in the United States for intelligence agencies to monitor US citizens without a court order, but Snowden's leaks have shown that Americans are regularly caught up in the monitoring of foreign targets.

US reveals data-collection process

In a bid to offset the damage done by Snowden's revelations, the Obama administration on Wednesday declassified a court order authorising the collection of millions of US phone records.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole said the newly declassified order makes clear how the government is allowed to use the call data obtained from telecom giants like Verizon.

"The terms under which the government may access or use the records is covered by [a] detailed court order that the DNI (director of national intelligence) declassified and released today," Cole told senators.

That primary order "provides that the government can search the data only if it has reasonable, articulable suspicion that the telephone number being searched is associated with certain terrorist organisations".

Surveillance ‘necessary’

At a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Cole and US intelligence officers defended the data-gathering program as necessary to maintain national security. But the panel's chairman, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, questioned the usefulness of the programme.

"If this programme is not effective, it must end,” Leahy said. “And so far, I am not convinced by what I have seen.”

Officials said the collected data had helped disrupt 54 terror threats, including 13 on US soil.

Deputy FBI director Sean Joyce said the telephone data programme, authorised by the US Patriot Act that came into law shortly after the 9/11 attacks of 2001, has played a crucial role in "closing the gaps and seams" of intelligence gathering.

"We must have the dots to connect the dots," Joyce said.

But Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, warned against efforts that would severely hamstring US phone or internet data-collection operations.

"We would place this nation in jeopardy if we eliminate these programs," she said.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-07-31

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