8 ways the NSA is spying on you right now

3 min read
Johnny 5

Johnny 5 believes in privacy, freedom from snooping governments, and Batman.

A security camera stamped with the U.S. flag.

In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed the NSA collects personal data on every American, as well as many more people worldwide. Though the scale of the surveillance was shocking at the time, it’s no longer the en vogue news story.

What is the NSA?

The NSA is the U.S. National Security Agency. Ostensibly there to protect U.S. citizens and interests, the truth is that the NSA monitors every American and the people of many allied countries—all with the backing of the U.S. government and large portions of Congress.

But it’s not only the NSA spying on its own people. Its counterparts at the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) are also spying on and hacking targets of interest.

Here are eight ways the NSA is still spying on you, right now, according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden and further investigation by the press.

How NSA surveillance works in America

1. The NSA can still access your phone records

In 2017, the NSA acquired data from over 534 million phone calls and text messages. Unbelievably, this tally is over triple the amount collected in 2015, when the USA Freedom Act supposedly limited NSA access to data from communication companies.

The NSA has yet to release the extent of 2018 data harvesting, though recent reports suggest excessive phone collections might finally be on the way out. Let’s hope the stories are true, but it wouldn’t be the first time the NSA has straight up lied about its surveillance policies.

2. Your favorite internet services pass your data to the NSA

Facebook, Google, Apple, and six other leading online services have all gone on record as having given their customers’ data to the NSA, as legally required by the “PRISM” program. Data shared includes emails, messages, and documents.

3. The NSA can hack your devices

The NSA’s hacking unit, Tailored Access Operations, has developed a whole range of hacking exploits. These enable the NSA to break into consumer electronics devices and IT systems as it sees fit.

When the NSA finds a security hole in a popular consumer device, it does not fix the security hole, but instead exploits it. That leaves virtually every device vulnerable to hackers.

4. All your security devices are exploitable thanks to the NSA

The NSA has made the job of hacking security devices easier for itself, by coercing many manufacturers into building vulnerabilities into products.

If that isn’t enough, the NSA is known to intercept shipments of computers and phones to put “backdoors” on them. The backdoor circumvents security measures of the device, allowing the NSA to spy on the end user.

5. The NSA can track you wherever you are

When you move around your town, cell phone towers can calculate your exact position. Though the NSA claims it no longer collects this bulk data itself, cell phone providers are still required to do so, and they, in turn, must surrender those records to the NSA when ordered by a court.

By far the worst aspect of this unwieldy power is that you don’t even have to be the subject of an inquiry yourself. The data of millions can be handed over, without notice, because you had even the most tangential connection to a person under surveillance.

How the NSA spies on you overseas

6. The NSA has tapped internet lines worldwide

The internet connects different continents via undersea fiber optic cables that carry staggering amounts of data. In some places, the NSA has deals with local intelligence agencies to tap into these cables; in others, it does so on its own. The NSA even uses submarines to attach snooping bugs to wires deep beneath in the ocean.

7. The NSA hacks foreign companies

In Brazil, Germany and other countries, the NSA has broken into the internal networks of major telecommunications providers, intercepting the data they gather and weakening the security of their systems. It collects every email and phone call it can.

8. The NSA knows everything you own and buy

Through agreements and hacking, the NSA can access credit card networks, payment gateways, and wire transfer facilities around the world. This monetary surveillance allows The NSA to follow every cent of your money, where it comes from, and what you spend it on.

Protect yourself from NSA surveillance

While NSA surveillance extends across the globe, there is still a lot you can do to safeguard your internet privacy. Check out this list of top privacy tips and always be conscious of what you’re sharing, with whom you’re sharing, and how you share it.

Johnny 5 is the editor of the blog and writes on today's most pressing technology issues. From important cat privacy stories to governments and corporations that overstep their boundaries, Johnny covers it all.