Snowden leaks: Google 'outraged' at alleged NSA hacking


A summary of US spying allegations brought about by Edward Snowden's leak of classified documents

Google has expressed outrage following a report that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has hacked its data links.

An executive at Google said it was not aware of the alleged activity, adding there was an "urgent need for reform".

The comments follow a Washington Post report based on leaks from Edward Snowden claiming that the NSA hacked links connecting data centres operated by Google and Yahoo.

The NSA's director said it had not had access to the companies' computers.

Gen Keith Alexander told Bloomberg TV: "We are not authorised to go into a US company's servers and take data."

But correspondents say this is not a direct denial of the latest claims.

'Extending encryption'

The revelations stem from documents leaked by ex-US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia and is wanted in the US in connection with the unauthorised disclosures.

The documents say millions of records were gleaned daily from the internet giants' internal networks.

They suggest that the NSA intercepted the data at some point as it flowed through fibre-optic cables and other network equipment connecting the companies' data centres, rather than targeting the servers themselves.

How intelligence is gathered

How intelligence is gathered
  • Accessing internet company data
  • Tapping fibre optic cables
  • Eavesdropping on phones
  • Targeted spying

The data was intercepted outside the US, the documents imply.

The data the agency obtained, which ranged from "metadata' to text, audio and video, were then sifted by an NSA programme called Muscular, operated with the NSA's British counterpart, GCHQ, the documents say.

The NSA already has "front-door" access to Google and Yahoo user accounts through a court-approved programme known as Prism.

Google's chief legal officer David Drummond said Google did not provide any government with access to its systems.

"We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping, which is why we have continued to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links, especially the links in the slide," Drummond said in a statement.

"We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fibre networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform."

A spokesperson for Yahoo said the company had "strict controls in place to protect the security of our data centres, and we have not given access to our data centres to the NSA or to any other government agency".

An NSA spokesperson denied a suggestion in the Washington Post article that the agency gathered "vast quantities of US persons' data from this type of collection".

NSA Director Gen Keith Alexander: "We do not have access to Google servers, Yahoo servers"

The latest revelations came hours after a German delegation of intelligence officials arrived in Washington for talks at the White House following claims that the US monitored Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone.

Two of Mrs Merkel's most important advisers, foreign policy adviser Christoph Heusgen, and intelligence coordinator Guenter Heiss were sent to take part in the talks - seen as a measure of how seriously Mrs Merkel takes the matter.

Next week, the heads of Germany's spying agencies will meet their opposite numbers in Washington.

'Inappropriate and unacceptable'

The head of US intelligence has defended the monitoring of foreign leaders as a key goal of operations but the US is facing growing anger over reports it spied on its allies abroad.

It has also been reported that the NSA monitored French diplomats in Washington and at the UN, and that it conducted surveillance on millions of French and Spanish telephone calls, among other operations against US allies.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said that if Spain had been a target of the NSA, this would be "inappropriate and unacceptable between partners".

James Clapper said knowing what foreign leaders were thinking was critical to US policymaking

However, Gen Alexander has said "the assertions... that NSA collected tens of millions of phone calls [in Europe] are completely false".

On Wednesday, the agency denied Italian media reports that it had targeted communications at the Vatican.

The UN said it had received assurances that its communications "are not and will not be monitored" by American intelligence agencies, but refused to clarify whether they had been in the past.

On Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before the intelligence panel of the House of Representatives that much of the data cited by non-US news outlets was actually collected by European intelligence services and later shared with the NSA.

He said foreign allies spied on US officials and intelligence agencies as a matter of routine.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    I've devised an algorithm that takes the text of an intended message and transforms into text that says the opposite. Or have I?

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Those who congratulate themselves for being 'unsurprised' about spying on friend and foe, should look deeper into the Big Data revolution and the information that can now be gathered and inferred. It is extraordinary, and gathering momentum.

    Angela Merkel knows what it is to be spied upon by a government without checks, I strongly suggest you take this seriously and look to your own.


  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    @59. Another brick in the wall
    "So that makes it okay does it?

    At least Google recognised that they did wrong and dealt with it. I can't see the US Government doing that. All they will do is lock up the whistle blower!"

    They only coughed when they were caught - pot calling the kettle black?

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Anyone remember the internet back in the 90s? When you searched for a topic you were returned a list of websites with information and discussion. It was like researching an impartial database. Now all you get is pages and pages of commercial links surrounded by sponsored commercial links. And wherever you go you're stalked by your last search. This is Google.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    The American administration knows no propriety. A very paranoid country but if you're the world's bully boy you need to watch your front back sides tops and bottoms because you know one day you'll fall.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    It is the indiscriminate 'hoovering' up of data that I really object to.

    I accept the need for *targetted* surveilance of small groups of people suspected of criminal activity. There must be independent approval of each instance of this.

    It would be good if *every* appliation for permission to snoop had to be made public after some date, this would keep the spies honest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Google! Whats that.
    Oh yes, burgulars of private lives

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Is anyone really surprised by this? Millions of people gleefully use email, Facebook, and similar systems. Accessing those things is technically feasible, and irresistibly attractive as a source of intelligence, and so, governments will do it, because it might help them protect the citizens they're supposed to protect. If you want the highest privacy, send a letter!

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    1. BeesAreTrendy

    Google - would this be the same Google that hacked into millions of people's Wireless Internet settings as it trotted round the country in it's little cars making StreetView ?


    So that makes it okay does it?

    At least Google recognised that they did wrong and dealt with it. I can't see the US Government doing that. All they will do is lock up the whistle blower!

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    We knew states spy on other states. We knew criminals were investigated. Move on

    We didn't know the NSA was hovering up every scape of data they could lay their hands on. Data that belongs to you and I. You and I, the non-criminals.

    "If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged" - Cardinal Richelieu

    Be afraid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Ha ha, so it's OK for Google to harvest their users information but when someone tries to do it to them they cry like a baby. Having said that it wouldn't surprise me if Google were not in collusion with NSA.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    @49 Eveline van der Steen

    "The words 'pot' and 'kettle' spring to mind......"

    That's probably because they're used by (approx) every 10th poster here and you've probably read them below :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Synthetic outrage!

    Nobody should trust their data or information to a country without proper data protection legislation compounded by a 'secret' service that is so out of control.

    The worst enemy of the American people is.... the CIA/NSA they have done far more harm to the country than good. This is sad condition has been unfortunately true ever since the last war.

    Blame Congress!

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Ah didums.

    Google makes sales in UK, but uses Ireland for tax affairs, thus legally avoiding substantial corporation tax, hence, I am bothered about Googles outrage as much as Google is bothered about its own taxation morals - which is - SWEETFALL

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I'm sure if the Americans are carrying out this snooping, then so are the Russians

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Oh and not even the dumbest terrorist will be using electronic communications for their plots after all this publicity. So any on going excuse that spying like this is to prevent terrorism is now pretty empty. It has always been more about commercial advantage, economics and national interest than terrorism. The public needs to respond by not being cattle and ditching social media etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    The best thing to have happened for U.S spy agencies was terrorism! It gave them the excuse they needed to pry into the private lives of their own and foreign citizens, and all in the name of our safety!
    People like Snowden proved the U.S simply cannot keep the gathered information safe, therefore even if such spying actions were justified their lack of security puts us all at risk!

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Its already been said but i have to say it as well.
    Just who are the people that didnt think this was happening?
    Every country does it.
    If they can.
    I dont really care if they spy on me, i have nothing to hide.
    People are so silly with their outrage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    The words 'pot' and 'kettle' spring to mind......

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    >have a duty to protect us from harm, they do a good job of it.
    Where's your evidence for this? There have been a string of intelligence failures, despite unholy sums of money being spent on 'expert' contractors. They're clueless, and the chief purpose of the secrecy is to hide their incompetence.


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