Further leaks have revealed an NSA project called XKeyscore that, with a few keystrokes, can give a data analyst access to nearly everything a user does on the Internet – from chat sessions to email to browsing habits.
The system requires an email because many behaviors online are completely anonymous and it is only via some sort of identifier — a username and domain — that the system can scour the database of collected Internet traffic and metadata.
As Snowden said to the Guardian on June 10, “I, sitting at my desk could wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email.” XKeyscore is how it is done.
The system is available to NSA analysts and can be accessed without a warrant. According to training manuals produced in 2010, the system requires analysts to request data on certain individuals. The system then scans traffic beginning and terminating in the United States using keyword searches. The system can also search Facebook comments, as well as other social media data.
The data is not permanent. Because the system gathers billions of records a day, the database can store it for at most a few days. The NSA claims that these searches, which can pinpoint communications between people online and over the phone and find mention of certain terms and names in blog posts, emails, and other shared content, are completely audited and are aimed at overseas targets — although American nationals are often swept in during the intelligence gathering.
“XKeyscore is used as a part of NSA’s lawful foreign signals intelligence collection system,” said the NSA to the Guardian. “Allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are simply not true.”