How Does the NSA Spy on You?

In 2013, NSA contractor Edward Snowden came forward with information that rocked the public. NSA is keeping an eye on world events, which we already knew, but even more shockingly, the agency spies on its own citizens. Edward Snowden paid a heavy price and fled the country for revealing this information, but the public took notice.

In the months that followed, it was revealed that not only was the NSA spying on Americans, it was using its considerable budget to invent ingenious ways to do so. Movement tracking, hacking, data gathering software and even cables across the ocean floor. Nothing was taboo in their attempts to gather ammunition against the very people they are sworn to protect.


PRISM act collecting informationPRISM is the Public Record Information System Methodology, also known as SIGAD US-984XN. It wasn’t a new act when it was revealed in 2013. In fact, it had already been in place since 2007. Since its inception, PRISM has been keeping phone logs, messages, emails, and encrypted data under the guise of preventing terrorism.

Under PRISM, court orders can be filed to gather private information from any ISP, phone service provider, and even social media sites like Facebook. They can monitor search engines like Google and Yahoo for whatever information they need. These documents are kept on file to be used however NSA wishes. PRISM is by far the largest technique NSA uses to snoop on its own people, accounting for nearly 91% of all the information collected by the agency.

Other ways NSA could be Targeting You

As we mentioned, PRISM is the largest data collection source, but it is not the only one.

  • Tapping underwater cables: Cables that run across the ocean floor, the framework that keeps the world connected on the Internet. NSA doesn’t need any authorization to tap into these cables and spy on everyone at once. They can attach devices directly to the cables and accomplish all the data collection they wish, not just around the globe, but on their own citizens as well.
  • Cell phone towers: Cell phone towers have the ability to track and pinpoint the user’s exact location at any time, with or without using a SIM card. These coordinates are sent back to the big guys, like Google. Google is required to turn these records over to the NSA, if requested, under the PRISM act.
  • Tailored Access Operations: The TAO is responsible for gathering information directly from your devices that are connected to the Internet. This information includes credit cards and purchases, text messages, and even phone conversations. To ensure that your device can be hacked, NSA requires cell phone, computer and tablet manufacturers to install vulnerabilities into your devices.

Does the NSA spie on other countries?

No one was exceptionally shocked to find that the NSA had been tapping into information from other global powers. What was disturbing, however, was the 2015 WikiLeaks revelation that since the 1990’s, active espionage had been ongoing in Germany. Chancellor Angela Markel had her devices tapped, revealing personal conversations on her cell phone and email missives.

Spying on other countries

WikiLeaks went on to reveal that Germany was only one of many countries being secretly observed. Brazil was one such country, with its economic information being hacked right down to the leaders of the Central Bank. NSA spied on the government, too, even going so far as to release the phone numbers of thirty ministers, including the then president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff.

What This Means for You?

We have long known that our Internet habits make us vulnerable to attacks from hackers seeking our identities, passwords, accounts and financial information. What we didn’t realize until relatively recently is that our privacy is at risk from an even bigger entity, the NSA. How can we hope to protect our privacy from a giant with pockets as deep as the NSA has?

  • Keep in mind that some search terms are automatic triggers for the NSA “defense” systems, even if you had no intention of wrongdoings.
  • End to end encryption can add an extra layer of protection for your communications. You can encrypt information stored on your hard drive as well, to make it less vulnerable to hacking.
  • Use a VPN to shield your Internet activity from prying eyes. Remember, though, that many VPNs keep logs of your activity, and they must release these files if ordered to do so. This is still one of the best ways to protect yourself, but make sure your VPN guarantees that it does not keep logs. The VPN can even originate from a different country that isn’t as worried about collecting and keeping data.