2013 in Review: The Year the NSA Finally Admitted Its "Collect It All" Strategy

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As the year draws to a close, EFF is looking back at the major trends influencing digital rights in 2013 and discussing where we are in the fight for free expression, innovation, fair use, and privacy. Click here to read other blog posts in this series.

There is probably no bigger story in 2013 than that the American people having learned about the secret mass spying programs of the National Security Agency (NSA).

While prior to 2013 the NSA's public line was that it was forbidden from spying on Americans in America, but with the Snowden revelations (and help from a wide range of journalists and technologists that helped explain them) the NSA was forced to admit that it secretly expanded its mandate from limited surveillance of specific foreign intelligence targets to a massive "collect it all" strategy where its goal is to ensure that no communication in the world is ever truly private or secure.

With this, EFF’s long running lawsuit against key parts of NSA spying came to life, we launched another, and both the U.S. and the entire world finally began discussing whether we want to live in a world of general warrants and always-on surveillance or whether we want to regain our basic privacy, rule of law, and freedom of association.

Here’s just some of what we’ve learned, or had confirmed, in 2013:

  • The NSA collects virtually every phone call record in the United States—that’s who you call, who calls you, when, for how long, and sometimes where. (Guardian)
  • The NSA "is harvesting hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world, many of them belonging to Americans." (Washington Post)
  • The NSA is collecting "communications on fiber cables and infrastructure as data flows past," as part of what it calls "upstream" collection, including content and metadata of emails, web activity, chats, social networks, and everything else. (Washington Post)
  • The NSA "is searching the contents of vast amounts of Americans’ e-mail and text communications into and out of the country." (New York Times)
  • NSA "is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age." (New York Times and Pro Publica)
  • NS "has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world" and has "positioned itself to collect at will from hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans." (Washington Post)
  • NSA has "has been gathering records of online sexual activity and evidence of visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of those whom the agency believes are radicalizing others through incendiary speeches." (Washington Post)
  • NSA "is secretly piggybacking on the tools that enable Internet advertisers to track consumers, using "cookies" and location data to pinpoint targets for government hacking and to bolster surveillance." (Washington Post)
  • NSA "officers on several occasions have channeled their agency’s enormous eavesdropping power to spy on love interests." (Wall Street Journal)
  • NSA and GHCQ spied on online games, including World or Warcraft and Second Life. (ProPublica)

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