The National Security Agency (NSA) and Internet service providers (ISPs) are working together to monitor Internet traffic, with the reported goal of preventing foreign cyberattacks against defense firms.
The program uses sophisticated NSA tools to scan email and other digital traffic, seeking to identify any malicious programs that may be used to attack companies with defense contracts.
“We hope the… cyber pilot can be the beginning of something bigger,” Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III said, quoted by a WashingtonPost.com article. “It could serve as a model that can be transported to other critical infrastructure sectors, under the leadership of the Department of Homeland Security.”
Thus far, the spying tools are being used only on commercial Internet traffic with significant ties to the Department of Defense. The participating ISPs are AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink.
“We wouldn’t want this to become a backdoor form of surveillance,” James X. Dempsey, vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology, a civil liberties group, told The Washington Post. Dempsey stressed that any extensions to the program would have to guarantee protections against government access to private Internet traffic.
“The U.S. government will not be monitoring, intercepting or storing any private-sector communications,” Lynn said, quoted by the article. “Rather, threat intelligence provided by the government is helping the companies themselves, or the Internet service providers working on their behalf, to identify and stop malicious activity within their networks.”
“The government needs to make up its mind about whether it wants to protect networks or collect intelligence,” Dempsey said.