Simply using certain encryption services or investigating alternatives to Microsoft Windows could get you placed under surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence organizations, according to a new report.
Utilizing encryption solutions such as TOR could result in monitoring by the NSA and its allies, including Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), according to the report in the German media outlet Tagesschau.
The NSA tracks people with a surveillance tool called XKeyscore.
“Anyone who is determined to be using Tor is also targeted for long-term surveillance and retention,” Corey Doctorow wrote at the BoingBoing.net blog.
The German outlet said computer experts watched the XKeyscore code and found that the NSA was constantly monitoring TOR users on servers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the National Journal reported.
TOR is a program that lets a person stay private by routing communications through computers and servers all over the world. It makes it much harder for the NSA and other agencies to track.
Other Behaviors the NSA Regards as Dangerous
The German report listed a number of seemingly innocent and harmless behaviors that can trigger NSA surveillance, the National Journal said. They include:
- Going to Linux Journal, a popular forum for the open-sourced operating system Linux. The NSA apparently regards Linux Journal as an extremist forum.
- Searching for information about Tails, a popular operating system used by human rights advocates.
- Searching for information about any Windows alternative.
- Searching for information about online privacy.
“The better able you are at protecting your privacy online, the more suspicious you become,” National Journal’s Paul Tucker wrote.
“Tor and Tails have been part of the mainstream discussion of online security, surveillance and privacy for years,” Doctorow wrote. “It’s nothing short of bizarre to place people under suspicion for searching for these terms.”
The NSA, he added, isn’t being honest about its surveillance.
“It’s a dead certainty that people who heard the NSA’s reassurances about ‘targeting’ its surveillance on people who were doing something suspicious didn’t understand that the NSA meant people who’d looked up technical details about systems that are routinely discussed on the front page of every newspaper in the world,” Doctorow wrote.
One expert Doctorow spoke with “suggested that the NSA’s intention here was to separate the sheep from the goats” – that is, to separate people who don’t care about their privacy from people “who have the technical know-how to be private.”
XKeyscore apparently tracks individuals online by using fingerprint triggers that activate whenever certain information is detected.