NSA Gets Hooks Into Google and Yahoo Data Centers

The National Security Agency has breached the main communications links into Google and Yahoo data centers worldwide, giving it access to hundreds of millions of user accounts, The Washington Post reported today.  Drawing on documents from exiled NSA contractor Edward Snowden and other inside contacts, the paper learned that the NSA intercepts and transmits millions of Google and Yahoo records daily to its Fort Meade headquarters.

A top secret document accessed by the Post stated that, during a 30-day period at the end of 2012, NSA field collectors processed more than 181 million records showing who sent or received emails and when, as well as users’ access of text, audio, and video. The data is mostly collected overseas, where the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has no jurisdiction over U.S. taps.

“The NSA can suck up whole Internet video sessions containing sensitive content, such as health-related discussions,” says Joe Lorenzo Hall, senior staff technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “This can be stored up and used against someone whenever a reason presents itself.  The NSA’s data warehouse is very large.”

Hall is not convinced, however, that consumers or marketers will be much affected by the NSA data breach. “Privacy advocates are all over this, but you haven’t seen the Big Brother rhetoric hit everyman yet. The way consumers will be affected by this is if their services are affected by some reaction on the part of Google or Yahoo,” he says.

Privacy researcher Larry Ponemon, CEO of the Ponemon Institute, agrees. “Consumers have an attention-span problem when it comes to privacy. This is an issue that will probably blow over,” he says.

Ponemon thinks the revelation could serve to apply political pressure on the NSA to limit what information it collects about citizens, but won’t have much if any effect on marketers.  “Marketers are in the business of collecting as much as they can. They’re not going to change their behavior in fear of data ending up in the hands of the NSA,” he says.

Neither are corporate leaders likely to be concerned. A Ponemon Institute study done in concert with the Edelman Privacy Risk Index last year revealed that 60% of companies worldwide do not consider privacy a priority. What’s more, half of the 6,400 executives surveyed said they didn’t believe a data breach would adversely affect their corporate reputations.

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