US spy agency ex­pands on­line spy­ing in search for hack­ers with Obama’s nod

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has ap­proved giv­ing the NSA wider pow­ers to spy on In­ter­net traf­fic in search of com­puter hack­ing by for­eign gov­ern­ments or oth­ers, U.S. me­dia re­ported Thurs­day, cit­ing clas­si­fied doc­u­ments.

The ex­panded author­ity was granted by the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment in two 2012 memos that per­mit the pow­er­ful Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency to sift through on­line data with­out a war­rant to un­cover pos­si­ble mal­ware or other cy­ber in­tru­sions linked to for­eign pow­ers, ac­cord­ing to the New York Times and ProPublica.

The re­port was based on docu- ments leaked by for­mer NSA con­trac­tor Ed­ward Snow­den, who re­mains wanted on es­pi­onage charges over his ex­plo­sive dis­clo­sures on the agency’s far-reach­ing spy­ing.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment per­mit­ted the spy agency to track ad­dresses and pat­terns that it could trace back to for­eign gov­ern­ments.

But the depart­ment also al­lowed the NSA to spy on a par­tic­u­lar on­line tar­get as long as they were linked to “ma­li­cious cy­ber ac­tiv­ity” and not clearly tied to a for­eign power, ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ments, posted on­line by the Times.

Skep­tics of the NSA say any strength­en­ing of the agency’s spy­ing author­ity should be openly de­bated in­stead of en­acted se­cretly.

Ac­cord­ing to civil lib­er­ties ad­vo­cates, the en­hanced spy­ing author­ity could push the agency into ar­eas tra­di­tion­ally re­served for do­mes­tic law en­force­ment agen­cies. And that could rep­re­sent a po­ten­tial breach of the agency’s des­ig­nated role as ex­clu­sively fo­cused on gath­er­ing for­eign in­tel­li­gence.

But of­fi­cials said the move was nec­es­sary to counter a cy­ber threat that Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Direc­tor James Clap­per has por­trayed as “in­creas­ing in fre­quency, scale, so­phis­ti­ca­tion and sever­ity of im­pact.”

“Against that back­drop, it should come as no sur­prise that the U.S. gov­ern­ment gath­ers in­tel­li­gence on for­eign pow­ers that at­tempt to pen­e­trate U.S. net­works and steal the pri­vate in­for­ma­tion of U.S. cit­i­zens and com­pa­nies,” said Brian Hale, spokesman for the Of­fice of the Direc­tor or Na­tional In­tel­li­gence.

“As we’ve pub­licly stated, tar­get­ing over­seas in­di­vid­u­als en­gag­ing in hos­tile cy­ber ac­tiv­i­ties on be­half of a for­eign power is a law­ful for­eign in­tel­li­gence pur­pose.”

It re­mained un­clear what crite- ria the NSA would ap­ply to se­lect po­ten­tial tar­gets for sur­veil­lance, as un­cov­er­ing the source of com­puter hack­ing is no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult.

The re­port re­veal­ing broader NSA spy­ing came as gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance faces tougher scru­tiny and a re­newed public de­bate about how to bal­ance pri­vacy rights with se­cu­rity.

Law­mak­ers this week voted to place some lim­its on the NSA’s spy­ing, adopt­ing leg­is­la­tion to end the gov­ern­ment’s drag­net of bulk tele­phone data. It marked the first time since the 9/11 at­tacks that the U. S. gov­ern­ment’s sur­veil­lance was re­stricted.

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