XKeyscore and Mass Surveillance

What is XKeyscore?

XKeyscore is a computer software developed and used by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) for searching, analyzing and storing Internet data on a global scale. It is a software tool that searches and collects private data from any device in the world connected to the internet.

Who has access to XKeyscore?

The NSA has shared XKeyscore with other intelligence agencies such as:

  • Australian Signals Directorate
  • Canada’s Communication Security Establishment
  • New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau
  • Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters
  • Japan’s Defense Intelligence Headquarters
  • Germany’s Bundesnachrichtendienst.

What can XKeyscore do?

XKeyscore is the NSA’s widest reaching software. It allows analysts to search through vast databases with no prior authorization. These databases cover nearly everything a typical user does on the internet, including the content of emails, websites searches, social media profiles, and private messages. Beyond emails and websites, XKeyscore allows analysts to access any type of data on devices. It can look at live video through a webcam or listen through the microphone on a computer or a smart phone, even if the device is turned off. The software has the ability to find anyone’s location and overall manipulate devices connected through the internet.

How does it work?

XKeyscore in simple terms can be considered a “search engine” like Google, where an NSA analyst can simply search by name, email, phone number, or keyword. The NSA has many ways of accessing private data, the following are some examples:

  • Local internet service providers comply with government policies to allow the NSA access to data from their costumers. For the NSA to have an online connection on a global scale, they actively build a large network of fiber optic cables around the world.
  • The PRISM program is a government agreement to allow access to user data. This agreement includes the cooperation of several technology companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Paltalk, YouTube, AOL, Skype and Apple.


The PRISM program under the NSA is the latest effort to counter terrorism post 9/11. Electronic surveillance efforts began under President Bush with the Patriot Act and expanded to include the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). PRISM allows the NSA to request data on specific people from major technology companies only when given permission by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court.

FISA Court

FISA is a secretive U.S. federal court established and authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Act of 1978 to oversee requests for surveillance warrants, and wiretap data collection against foreign spies and terrorists. The NSA obtains warrants from the FISA court, which some consider to be on a thin line of unethical, due to the little to no public supervision of this court.

These programs allow the NSA to collect information that enables them to perform their mission successfully — upholding the laws of the land while providing critical foreign intelligence information to keep America and its allies safe and secure. Since the majority of the data collected and stored is from our own nation, some may argue, is this a way to gain social and economic control?



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