A REPORT in the New York Times claims that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has built up a database of citizens and their families, friends and associates via the power of social networks.
The New York Times revelation is part of the fallout from Edward Snowden's NSA surveillance whistleblowing, and reports that the agency has graphs that map people, their social connections and movements.
According to the newspaper, the graphs are the work of a relatively recent policy change that saw the US extend the glare of surveillance from exclusively foreign nationals to include US citizens.
The agency was then given the right to build up a "large-scale graph analysis on very large sets of communications metadata without having to check foreignness" of email addresses, phone numbers or other identifiers. The documents show that the NSA collects data from user bank codes, insurance details, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests and GPS locations.
Not revealed is where the information comes from, and the NSA has not said what email and phone records are used to construct its people pages. The information collected is quite illuminating, according to experts, and tags people with a number of criterion including "travelswith, hasfather, sentforummessage, [and] employs". All in, there are 94 entity types, reported the New York Times.
"Metadata can be very revealing," said Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University.
"Knowing things like the number someone just dialled or the location of the person's cellphone is going to allow them to assemble a picture of what someone is up to. It's the digital equivalent of tailing a suspect."
The newspaper suggested that the NSA is using a system that it has dubbed Mainway. Mainway, which makes connections between users and their communications, was taking in 700 million phone records per day during 2011, until it added documents from a new data provider and increased its haul by an additional 1.1 billion records per day. µ