An investigation by the German broadcasters ARD and WDR has apparently demonstrated the targeting by the NSA of a German student called Sebastian Hahn, who runs a node on the anonymization network Tor. It has also shown that anyone searching for “privacy-enhancing software tools” online may be marked for surveillance. Tor works by bouncing traffic off a series of servers so that it’s near-impossible to trace who’s browsing what. It’s partly funded by the U.S. Department of State because it’s handy for dissidents in repressive regimes, but Edward Snowden’s leaks already showed last year that the NSA has been targeting Tor because it believes terrorists also use it.
If you use Tor or any of a number of other privacy services online or even visit their web sites to read about the services, there’s a good chance your IP address has been collected and stored by the NSA, according to top-secret source code for a program the NSA uses to conduct internet surveillance. There’s also a good chance you’ve been tagged for simply reading news articles about these services published by Wired and other sites. This is according to code, obtained and analyzed by journalists and others in Germany, which for the first time reveals the extent of some of the wide-spread tracking the NSA conducts on people using or interested in using privatizing tools and services—a list that includes journalists and their sources, human rights activists, political dissidents living under oppressive countries and many others who have various reasons for needing to shield their identity and their online activity. The source code, for the NSA system known as XKeyscore, is used in the collection and analysis of internet traffic, and reveals that simply searching the web for privacy tools online is enough to get the NSA to label you an “extremist” and target your IP address for inclusion in its database. But the NSA’s analysis isn’t limited to tracking metadata like IP addresses. The system also conducts deep-packet inspection of emails that users exchange with the Tor anonymizing service to obtain information that Tor conveys to users of so-called Tor “bridges.”