While privacy supporters are encouraged to take steps at an individual level to protect their own data from the creeping eyes of the NSA (and FBI for that matter), a recent report indicates that such important personal steps alone aren’t enough.

According to a report on the Verge, the NSA targets users who use the Tor encryption system and automatically collecting information on those who use it.

And according to a report published by security researcher Jacob Appelbaum and others, it’s treating even the Tor website as a place to check for terrorists. The authors, three of whom work on the Tor project, say they’ve obtained new details on NSA internet database XKeyscore, specifically a piece of source code with rules for automatically capturing information about people who used Tor and privacy-focused operating system Tails.

The report published by journalists from the German newspaper Der Speigle and security researchers from the Tor Project, indicates the NSA uses  XKeyscore source code (click here) to target those who use software to secure their privacy online with online anonymity tools like Tor and Tails.That’s not all. NSA also targets those who read from online journal about the open-source operating systems called Linux from Linux Journal.

If you are unfamiliar with Tor, Tails, or Linux here is a quick overview:

Tor (The Onion Router) is “free software and an open network that helps you defend against traffic analysis.” Tor encrypts your your data in layers, then sends it through a series of nodes. The data is only able to go to the next node after a layer of encryption is removed revealing the next node’s address. Since the data is encrypted, and the only way to know the next node’s address is to remove a layer of encryption it prevents anyone from targetting the data going through the Tor network. Tails is ” a live operating system, that you can start on almost any computer from a DVD, USB stick, or SD card. It aims at preserving your privacy and anonymity,” by not storing any information on a hard disk and requires a user to use Tor to safely go online. Once the DVD, USB, or SD card is removed, the computer will boot up with it’s original operating system Linux is an open source operating system that is an alternative to closed source operating systems like Mac OS or Windows.

Visiting these sites, reading Linux Journal and others of the like, and even setting up a Tor relay is grounds for you to be called an extremist and your traffic, including your email, to thoroughly analyzed. In the XKeyscore source code it “describes Tails as “a comsic mechanism advocated by extremists on extremist forums”.

Who uses these tools? Activists, journalists, people concerned about online privacy, and people living in oppressive regimes where freedom of expression is repressed and censorship is standard operating procedure.

The NSA has been trying to crack Tor for some time now, so it’s not surprising that the agency has aggressively targeting and tracking users. Everybody is suspect, especially somebody who has the audacity to try to maintain privacy. These revelations emphasizes the need for additional action to thwart the NSA’s surveillance programs.

The OffNow campaign has developed a strategy that targets the spy agency at the state and local level. The cornerstone of the plan is legislation that would prohibit state governments from providing any material support to the NSA. This includes supplying important resources like water and electricity.

By taking action on a state level to deny cooperation, support and even desperately-needed resources – in conjunction with support for Tails, TOR and other privacy-related projects – the goals of the NSA can be crippled in practice. Go to OffNow.org to learn more.

Kelli Sladick

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