Report: Secret Justice Department memos expanded NSA spying to target hacking

On the same week the U.S. took action to reform one controversial NSA spying program comes a new report about another secret program that expanded the NSA’s spying powers — one that began in 2012 and which involves searching for hackers.

The New York Times and ProPublica jointly report that two secret Justice Department memos gave the NSA permission for warrantless searches of U.S. Internet networks for data about computer attacks originating abroad.

The report, based on information leaked by former government tech contractor Edward Snowden, shows the “Justice Department allowed the agency to monitor only addresses and ‘cybersignatures’ — patterns associated with computer intrusions — that it could tie to foreign governments. But the documents also note that the NSA sought to target hackers even when it could not establish any links to foreign powers.”

This means that as with other spying programs, Americans’ online information is scooped up in the name of fighting foreign threats. From the report: “One internal NSA document notes that agency surveillance activities through ‘hacker signatures pull in a lot.’ ”

The government says it’s necessary. “It should come as no surprise that the U.S. government gathers intelligence on foreign powers that attempt to penetrate U.S. networks and steal the private information of U.S. citizens and companies,” Brian Hale, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, reportedly said. Hale said the program fits “a lawful foreign intelligence purpose.”

But Jonathan Mayer, a Stanford Law School cybersecurity scholar, told the NYT the newly revealed program runs “smack into law enforcement land.”

By the way: The Intercept points out that U.S. officials including former NSA Director Keith Alexander had claimed (for example, in 2014 at a cybersecurity conference) that the government lacked the ability to detect online attacks in the United States, and often pushed for more cybersecurity powers.

 

Photo: The NSA building in Fort Meade, Maryland. (Associated Press)

 

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