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What is Data Mining, What is NSA's Utah Data Center and What Data Collection Methods are Used There?


According to the popular myth, an ostrich only keeps its head in the sand until it is bitten. Then it is forced to confront the situation. And make no mistake, in the new internet age our privacy is already under attack – by both government agencies and advertising syndicates, in the US and abroad. The USA's National Security Agency (NSA), second only to China's SIGINT, is widely seen as the most advanced and aggressive of these data-miners.

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Data Mining

Idcloak provides an SSL VPN service which protects you from even the most advanced data collection techniques: a means how to encrypt your internet connection (both computer and mobile) as well as how to spoof IP address, and hide ISP identity. Unfortunately, most internet users continue to keep their head in the sand long after third-party cyber surveillance has begun its meal of them. This article seeks to define data mining, put forward what we know of the NSA's data collection methods, and tell you how, if you setup home VPN protection and block internet tracking, you may protect your privacy.

At idcloak we often hear the question: why use VPN anonymity protection? Our answer is simple: just take your head out of the sand and you'll see why.

what is NSA up to?

It took a long list of NSA whistleblowers to see any real pressure mount against the US cyber surveillance program known as Stellar Wind. The most recent development in the warrantless surveillance controversy saw the Justice Department being sued for its failure to release information under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) – an attack led by the San Francisco rights advocacy group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The public has shown it wants an answer to the question what is NSA up to? and the Justice Department is holding off saying.

But this turning of the screw is more about opening up dialogue on the accountability of NSA and FBI surveillance than learning what kind of surveillance is going on. Even with the DoJ staying silent on the matter, a long line of NSA whistleblowers have furnished us with a good picture of what kind of data collection techniques are being used and on what scale. The most notorious of these public informers are Thomas Drake, Russ Tice, Thomas Tamm, Mark Klein and William Binney. Thanks to them, we can offer a fairly confident answer to the questions on everyone's tongues: What is data mining in the US today? What is NSA seeking to achieve through warrantless surveillance? And what data collection methods are being employed?

We should first take a moment to remember the considerable sacrifice that these and other whistleblowers made in order that perceived injustices could reach the public eye. Not only did they forfeit their careers (and pensions), but they suffered FBI house raids, criminal action (Drake had to fight a potential 35 year jail sentence in court) and, of course, intimidation – Binney recounts having a gun held to his head during a raid on his home.

what is data mining?

Data mining is the collection and categorization of personal data from internet and telephone communications. Its intention is to provide a detailed picture of an individual through the collection and combination of different data types. Implicit in the word mining is that the information collected was to some degree hidden and never intended to be viewed by monitoring third parties.

In order to define data mining in practical terms, we should first understand that cyber surveillance is not at all limited to the NSA and its forthcoming Utah Data Center (which we'll come to in a moment) – it extends to the private business sector too. Our personal data is also mined by every web service, site and search engine we use – not to mention our ISPs. Regardless of what data collection techniques are used, our digital fingerprint is not just of value to governments for the purposes of political influence, but also to modern private companies looking to boost sales through targeted advertising. Private firms accrue personal data alongside our IP information under the premise that this data helps them improve service delivery, while governments say they need the information to keep us safe – particularly from terrorism. Neither group is being entirely honest. Government bodies and private firms alike have their own agendas in mind, and they are working more and more closely together.

Part II: The Unsettling Future of the NSA and Data Mining

Written by: 
Robin Welles; expats team, internet security team