Demonstrators rally at the U.S. Capitol to protest spying on Americans by the National Security Agency, as revealed in leaked information by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, in Washington, Saturday, October 26, 2013.
Wed Dec 11, 2013 9:22AM GMT
The US National Security Agency is secretly using browser cookies and location data to find and track surveillance targets, according to the Washington Post, citing leaked documents by American whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The NSA is using the same tools that enable Internet advertisers to track consumers to better serve them advertising, according to NSA internal presentation slides, provided by Snowden, a former agency’s contractor.
According to the documents, the US super spy agency and its British counterpart, GCHQ, are using the small tracking files or “cookies” that advertising networks place on computers to identify people browsing the Internet.
“In addition to tracking Web visits, this cookie allows NSA to single out an individual’s communications among the sea of Internet data in order to send out software that can hack that person’s computer,” the Post said.
Privacy advocates have for a long time raised concerns about the use of online tracking surveillance by companies to identify and target consumers with advertisements.
“On a macro level, ‘to track everyone everywhere for advertising’ translates into ‘the government being able to track everyone everywhere,'” says Chris Hoofnagle, a lecturer in residence at UC Berkeley Law. “It’s hard to avoid.”
In addition, the NSA is also using commercially gathered information from the internet to help it locate mobile smartphones around the world, the newly leaked documents show.
Many smartphone apps running on iPhones and Android devices, and the Apple and Google operating systems themselves, track the location of each device, often without a clear warning to the phone’s owner. The information collected is more specific than the 5 billion location tracking records the agency reportedly collects on a daily basis, as reported by the newspaper last week.