Last Updated on May 20, 2021 by Sara Taylor
Ever wanted to know what kind of emails your friend receives? How about breaking into your friend’s Facebook account, then reading all the privates messages? Well, you can’t do that, but folks working at National Security Agency (NSA) certainly can. And it’s not only your friends they can target — everyone’s digital data is accessible.
The new XKeyscore is a software that can track emails, social media activity and almost anything you do online without even asking for your permission. Only the NSA analysts are allowed to access the program. Entering a person’s email address reveals everything about him/her. The program is so powerful that it harvests all the information in real-time. See: What is XKeyscore and how can it track your personal information?
According to the leaked documents produced by Guardian, this secret surveillance tool allows US intelligence to track “nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet.”
Even a general query (first or last name of the person) yields handful amount of results, from which it gets easier to find the individual’s personal information like phone number.
XKeyscore retrieves data from the database which keeps growing every minute. This is why there are 500 servers distributed around the world, each of them storing as much data as possible.
It was Edward Snowden, a fugitive intelligence contractor, who first exposed this “secret” surveillance software to the world.
It is illegal in the United States for agencies to track and monitor US citizens without a written permission or court order.
NSA have also claimed in the document that over 300 terrorists were captured with the help of XKeyscore. The data, however, remains on the server only for a few days. From The Guardian:
The XKeyscore system is continuously collecting so much internet data that it can be stored only for short periods of time. Content remains on the system for only three to five days, while metadata is stored for 30 days. One document explains: “At some sites, the amount of data we receive per day (20+ terabytes) can only be stored for as little as 24 hours.”
To solve this problem, the NSA has created a multi-tiered system that allows analysts to store “interesting” content in other databases, such as one named Pinwale which can store material for up to five years.
It is the databases of XKeyscore, one document shows, that now contain the greatest amount of communications data collected by the NSA.