Sunday, July 10, 2016

NSA labels Linux Journal readers and Tor and Tails users as extremists

Source: Digital Trends

By Dave Palmer
July 10, 2016

Fans of Tails (The Amnesic Incognito Live System) Linux operating system use it because of the well-documented security and anonymity features it provides. The system utilizes a Tor browser, which also affords more anonymity to users while browsing sites on the web. The Linux Journal is a monthly technology magazine and news site that focuses on topics related to Linux and open source programs.

Linux fans are typically outspoken about the OS, and are quick to argue the benefits with OSX and Windows users. They have developed a reputation for being champions of open source and anonymity when computing. Tails and Tor users are not only fans of the OS, but are also focused on security. The NSA recently became interested in these users' activity, reportedly labeling Linux Journal Readers and Tor and Tails users as extremists, according to Techspot.

Related: The latest tool in the NSA's toolbox? The Internet of Things

Documents leaked in connection with Edward Snowden purportedly included XKeyscore, a surveillance program that Snowden and anti-surveillance proponents criticized. Members of the Tor Project obtained the XKeyscore source code and reviewed it in detail. The Tor Project discovered that the NSA flagged members of the Tor community and their related IP addresses for surveillance.

The program flags any IP address involved in any web search for the term Tails or its meaning. The program refers to Tails Linux distribution as "a comsec mechanism advocated by extremists on extremist forums," according to Techspot.

Some speculation exists that a second leaker (in addition to Snowden) helped provide and possibly decipher the source code, but no supporting evidence of this has yet come to light. In response to the allegations, the NSA released an official statement, saying "the NSA collects only what is authorized by law to collect for valid foreign intelligence purposes."

The statement emphasized that strict oversight and compliance processes are in place to ensure that programs like XKeyscore are used as intended, and as allowed by law. Countries including the U.K., New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and the U.S. are exempt from surveillance of this kind.

Other OS proponents may consider Linux users to be a unique or eccentric group of users, but the application of the “extremists” blanket label has created a strong backlash in the tech community.

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