NSA’s use of ‘traffic shaping’ allows unrestrained spying on AmericansBy using a “traffic shaping” technique, the National Security Agency sidestepped legal restrictions imposed by lawmakers and the surveillance courts.
A new analysis of documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden details a highly classified technique that allows the National Security Agency to “deliberately divert” US internet traffic, normally safeguarded by constitutional protections, overseas in order to conduct unrestrained data collection on Americans.
According to the new analysis, the NSA has clandestine means of “diverting portions of the river of internet traffic that travels on global communications cables,” which allows it to bypass protections put into place by Congress to prevent domestic surveillance on Americans.
The new findings, published Thursday, follows a 2014 paper by researchers Axel Arnbak and Sharon Goldberg, published on sister-site CBS News, which theorized that the NSA, whose job it is to produce intelligence from overseas targets, was using a “traffic shaping” technique to route US internet data overseas so that it could be incidentally collected under the authority of a largely unknown executive order.
US citizens are afforded constitutional protections against surveillance or searches of their personal data. Any time the government wants to access an American’s data, they must follow the rules of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court, a Washington DC-based court that authorizes the government’s surveillance programs.
The research cites several ways the NSA is actively exploiting methods to shape and reroute internet traffic — many of which are well-known in security and networking circles — such as hacking into routers or using the simpler, less legally demanding option of forcing major network providers or telecoms firms into cooperating and diverting traffic to a convenient location.
Goldberg noted that sans any conclusive legal or public definitions from the FISA surveillance court on whether the practice is legal, the loophole remains, and “eliminating it calls for a realignment of current US surveillance laws and policies,” she added.
“The modern internet has changed the way that Americans communicate,” Goldberg said. “These changes call for a fundamental realignment of US surveillance law — specifically, the legal boundaries that distinguish interception of internet traffic on US territory from interception abroad must be broken down,” she said.
“Americans’ internet traffic should enjoy the same legal protections, regardless of whether it is intercepted on US territory, or intercepted abroad.”
As it stands, the law that governs the NSA’s use of collecting foreign and overseas collection — the so-called Section 702 statute — is set to expire at the end of the year, five years after it was first reauthorized after its debut in 2008 under the FISA Amendments Act.