Nation & World News

Report: NSA Harvests Contact Lists From Email, Facebook

By Scott Neuman on October 16th, 2013

The Washington Post has published new revelations about the National Security Agency’s electronic snooping, indicating that the intelligence branch gathers millions of contact lists from personal email accounts and instant messaging around the world.

The new information is attributed by The Post to “senior intelligence officials and top-secret documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.”

The Post reports:

“The collection program, which has not been disclosed before, intercepts e-mail address books and ‘buddy lists’ from instant messaging services as they move across global data links. Online services often transmit those contacts when a user logs on, composes a message, or synchronizes a computer or mobile device with information stored on remote servers.

“Rather than targeting individual users, the NSA is gathering contact lists in large numbers that amount to a sizable fraction of the world’s e-mail and instant messaging accounts. Analysis of that data enables the agency to search for hidden connections and to map relationships within a much smaller universe of foreign intelligence targets.”

According to the newspaper, in a single day last year the NSA harvested 444,743 email address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from unspecified other providers.

The Post story quotes Yahoo as saying that in response to NSA efforts, the tech company would begin encrypting user connections using SSL technology in January.

However, last month, The Two-Way’s Eyder Peralta wrote that The New York Times and The Guardian, relying on documents from Snowden, revealed that the NSA has the keys to crack most Internet encryption methods.

“In plain English, this means that many of the tools — like TLS, used by many banks and email providers — that people worldwide have come to believe protect them from snooping by criminals and governments are essentially worthless when it comes to the NSA.”

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