Searching for online articles about privacy is enough to get someone put in an NSA database of “extremists,” according to new revelations published this week.
In an article for German news outlet Tagesschau (translation here), Lena Kampf, Jacob Appelbaum and John Goetz reveal how the NSA’s “deep packet inspection” rules, which it uses to determine who to target for deep surveillance, include looking for web users who search for articles about Tor and Tails, an anonymous browser and a privacy-friendly operating system.
Those whose Internet traffic patterns suggest merely an interest in Tor or Tails are immediately put on a list of “extremists,” as is anyone who actually uses the Tor network.
“Tor and Tails have been part of the mainstream discussion of online security, surveillance and privacy for years. It’s nothing short of bizarre to place people under suspicion for searching for these terms,” writes Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow, adding that the NSA’s goal is, “to split the entire population of the Internet into “people who have the technical know-how to be private” and “people who don’t” and then capture all the communications from the first group.”
The revelation once again highlights the fact that the NSA’s data dragnet has little to do with catching terrorists and everything to do with targeting anyone who values their right to privacy. The mass collection of such information only serves to make it easier for actual bad guys to evade detection since the federal agency is building such vast and unwieldy databases.
Earlier this week, journalist Glenn Greenwald announced that he was set to release new information based on leaked documents obtained by whistleblower Edward Snowden which would reveal which individuals and institutions were the targets of NSA spying.
However, at the last minute Greenwald said the story would be postponed as a result of the U.S. government, “suddenly began making new last-minute claims which we intend to investigate before publishing.”