Yet another NSA spying roundup: More data swapping, Yahoo court order, wireless providers, more

This NSA spying story, it has legs:

• Data swapping between the United States and businesses involves a cast of thousands — of technology, finance and manufacturing companies that provide the government with “sensitive” information — beyond the scope of the information leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden that led to last week’s revelations of broad NSA surveillance aided by tech companies and wireless providers, according to Bloomberg. The companies share data — supposedly not personal information about their customers — with the feds in exchange for classified intelligence, according to four unnamed sources cited in the article. In some cases, the cooperation with the government is known to only a few people in each company.

A Silicon Valley company name that hasn’t been widely circulated yet pops up: McAfee, the security company now owned by Intel. “We do not share any type of personal information with our government agency partners,” Fey told Bloomberg. “McAfee’s function is to provide security technology, education, and threat intelligence to governments.”

If the Bloomberg report is true, the fight over CISPA, or the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act,  a couple of months ago seems now to have been unnecessary. CISPA sought to increase sharing of cyberthreat information between the government and businesses. It was passed by the House but the Senate refused to take it up. (Some senators have disclosed that they knew about the surveillance programs that were reported last week.) And just a reminder: Among CISPA opponents’ concerns was how much information businesses would share with the government, including of users’ personal information that might end up with the NSA.

• One of the few publicly released orders from the secret Washington court born from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) shows how Yahoo was forced to comply with orders to help the government spy on certain foreign users without a warrant, the New York Times reports. The Sunnyvale company would have broken the law if it refused to cooperate, the court ruled, and that’s how Yahoo became part of Prism.

The NYT says Yahoo fought against the government request, saying it violated users’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. But the court said the company could not show evidence of harm, and that the government’s “efforts to protect national security should not be frustrated by the courts.” Yahoo did not comment.

• Meanwhile, the NSA does not directly access call data of T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless, according to the Wall Street Journal. That’s because of legal issues related to foreign ownership stakes in the companies, a key point the WSJ says could present complications for the U.S. collection of the data in the future as foreign investors take stakes in other American companies.

Wait a minute, wasn’t the NSA reported to be scooping up Verizon call data last week? There’s a distinction: The NSA is collecting data from Verizon Business Services, which is separate from Verizon Wireless, in which Vodafone owns a stake. Still, the WSJ says “much of the U.S.’s telecom backbone” belongs to AT&T and Verizon Business Services, so an unnamed U.S. official says the NSA program still gathers metadata on 99 percent of U.S. phone traffic.

• Finally, here are a couple of tidbits about how some tech companies are benefiting from all the spying news. First, Wickr, the  mobile app that encrypts text messages, videos and documents as users exchange them, said in a statement today that the NSA news is “driving the most downloads we’ve seen this year,” with a 156 percent rise in the U.S. and a 116 percent global rise. (I wrote about San Francisco-based Wickr last week.)

And DuckDuckGo, the search engine that allows users to search anonymously, told VentureBeat that it is having its best week ever, with searches up 26 percent over the previous week.


Photo from Mercury News archives


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