A journey through interesting NSA surveillance programs

We have all heard about Edward Snowden. Some people see him as a hero, while others consider him as a traitor. Regardless of your opinion, the fact is that he has revealed many shocking documents. This article contains an overview of the most interesting NSA surveillance programs.


PRISM is a NSA’s “Special Source Operation,” which involves around 100 trusted U.S. companies since the 1970s. It’s goal is to gather “foreign intelligence”(data from outside U.S.) through American servers and store them – any person known to be in the United States is not a target of this program. PRISM was publicly revealed when classified documents about this program were leaked to journalists of The Washington Post and The Guardian by Edward Snowden. Most notable participants include: Microsoft, Skype, Facebook, Google, Apple, Yahoo! and Dropbox. It is worth mentioning that Twitter is…not part of PRISM.

  • Optic Nerve (GCHQ)
  • Optic Nerve is surveillance program, which has started back in 2008. It is run by the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) together with National Security Agency. During 4 years Optic Nerve has managed to gather millions of photos acquired through…webcams. According to the leaked documents, photos of random Yahoo! Messenger users were taken with 5 minute interval and used to improve the agency’s facial recognition software capabilities. Trivia – Up to 11% of photos taken were of an explicit nature.

  • MAINWAY is a NSA’s database, which stores telephone calls data, gathered through four largest telephone carriers in the United States: AT&T, BellSouth, SBC, and Verizon. MAINWAY does not record the sound itself, however it saves metadata like caller, receiver, date/time of call, length of call etc. According to Bloomberg, this program works since 2001 and stores metadata for 5 years.

  • If you think that private cloud traffic is safe and does not require encryption, you are wrong. MUSCULAR surveillance program was quite a surprise, especially for Google and Yahoo! since both of them have granted front-door access to their data by participating in PRISM program. As it turned out, it was not enough for the NSA. According to the Washington Post, MUSCULAR program allows NSA to copy “entire data flows across fiber-optic cables that carry information among the data centers of the Silicon Valley giants”. Both Google and Yahoo! were unaware of this situation and have started to encrypt their traffic right after revealing these informations.

  • DISHFIRE is a global surveillance system which gathers text messages and stores them in the database. The existence of DISHFIRE database was revealed in 2014. NSA and GHCQ can intercept data like: text messages, geolocation data, missed call alerts, roaming alerts caused by border crossing, financial transactions and business cards.

This is just a brief summary of what these programs are really capable of. If you care about your privacy, we recommend to search the web and read more about them.
It seems like George Orwell’s book, 1984, may have been the most visionary book ever.

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