The US government, under the leadership of Barack Obama, widened the NSA’s surveillance of US web traffic to detect foreign malware attacks, it has been claimed.
Documents released to the New York Times and ProPublica, based on Edward Snowden dispatches, reveal that in 2012, the spy agency was granted secret access to trawl US internet cables for hints of foreign intrusion.
The scheme granted the spy agency unwarranted access to web traffic coming to and from under investigation internet addresses.
Brian Hale, a spokesman for director of National Intelligence, told the New York Times: “It should come as no surprise that the US government gathers intelligence on foreign powers that attempt to penetrate US networks and steal the private information of US citizens and companies.
He added that “targeting overseas individuals engaging in hostile cyber activities on behalf of a foreign power is a lawful foreign intelligence purpose.”
Following the US government introducing the Freedom Act, which extended three surveillance protocols implemented in the expired Patriot Act, Edward Snowden, wrote in the New York Times: “Ending the mass surveillance of private phone calls under the Patriot Act is a historic victory for the rights of every citizen.
“Technologists have worked tirelessly to re-engineer the security of the devices that surround us... secret flaws in critical infrastructure that had been exploited by governments to facilitate mass surveillance have been detected and corrected. Basic technical safeguards such as encryption are now enabled by default in the products of pioneering companies like Apple.
“Though we have come a long way, the right to privacy - the foundation of the freedoms enshrined in the United States Bill of Rights - remains under threat."
He concluded: “Some of the world’s most popular online services have been enlisted as partners in the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, and technology companies are being pressured by governments around the world to work against their customers rather than for them.”
Personal freedoms are in the balance as the US seeks to defend itself against foreign malware attacks.
On Thursday evening US law enforcement agents told Reuters that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Interior Department was hacked, resulting in the theft of four million federal employees' personal data.
Investigators are looking at China as the potential source of the attack.