Because the data interception takes place outside U.S. borders, it is not governed by any U.S. law or overseen by any government entity besides the NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ. Even if traffic to, from, or about a U.S. citizen passes over the link -- and that's pretty much guaranteed, given the amount of local data caching large providers like Google and Yahoo do -- it gets scooped up and analyzed by those two agencies.
According to the Post's breakdown of the Snowden files, the Muscular program "relies on an unnamed telecommunications provider to offer secret access to a cable or switch through which the Google and Yahoo traffic passes."
This is most likely also how the spooks scooped up millions of address books from Yahoo, Gmail, Facebook, Hotmail, and the rest. Now the guessing game begins: Which international telecom gave the spooks the keys to their data centers and told them to help themselves? My guess is all of them.
Stripped down to the bone
Feeling naked yet? Because I'm definitely feeling a bit exposed myself.
The upshot of all of this warrantless, watcherless spying is that the spooks now have far more data than they can possibly analyze -- some 60GB a day at the time these documents were created, with plans to double that amount. And not just metadata, but the actual content of emails and other Web traffic.
They're like bulemics at an all-you-can-eat data buffet, taking trips to the bathroom so that they can come back for seconds and thirds. At the same time, these documents show that even the spooks think most of this stuff is of "low intelligence value."
Why are they collecting it, exactly? What good is it really doing? Are the theoretical plots that have been allegedly thwarted, which consist mostly of a lot of vague assertions with little actual evidence, reason enough for this gross violation of our civil rights?
At what point do we say enough is enough? And if enough of us say it, will anyone listen? Post your thoughts below or email me: email@example.com.
This article, "What's on tap at the NSA? Google's and Yahoo's private fiber backbones," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, follow Cringely on Twitter, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.