The NSA and its PRISM data collection program is quite the current event these days. Pundits talk about it, journalists write about, we are at the point where even the White House and Congress debate and talk about it. Regardless of individual opinions, you can’t really deny the NSA monitoring most sites and users. However, how does the NSA gather its vast supply of data? Do they just tap in into some networks? How about individual systems?
According to this article, http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-57610061-38/nsa-taps-into-google-yahoo-clouds-can-collect-data-at-will-says-post/ most of the data, especially metadata (which is a fancy word for data about data) is collected through the Clouds and search engines of major technology companies and providers, e.g., Google, Yahoo, Apple, etc. We all know the NSA is collecting the data of web users, but how does it really get to the NSA?
Many have assumed data and web traffic go through an NSA server or system when someone is using the internet. So, let’s assume this is the case first. Let’s say I am browsing a news site whose server is based out of Somewhere, CA. My computer here in Philly has to travel a path with quite a few nodes on it in order to communicate with that server in CA. Then, by our assumption, my traffic (and the returning data from CA) will eventually pass through this NSA server. If this is case, the NSA is the master gatekeeper of the Internet. Every piece of traffic or data must go through an NSA server or system along the path.
However, the real truth may be a bit more intriguing than our original assumption. According to the article (and other articles and some leaked information), the NSA is tapped into major servers and systems. Hence, no raw traffic passes through NSA systems on their paths. The NSA essentially has carbon copies of everyone’s information. So the NSA really isn’t this master gatekeeper of the internet. Major servers and systems are actually local gatekeepers for the NSA! However, most of the information on the NSA’s programs is still highly classified. Perhaps the NSA may actually be master gatekeepers. But one thing is for certain, some NSA servers and systems are solely connected to the World Wide Web via local gatekeepers.