SAN FRANCISCO — The National Security Agency secretly collects information that flows between the data centers of technology giants Yahoo and Google, the Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and interviews with knowledgeable officials.
Google's chief legal officer expressed outrage after the news and said the company does not give any government access to its systems.
The NSA does this mainly through a project called MUSCULAR, which it operates with the agency's British counterpart, GCHQ. From undisclosed interception points, the agencies copy entire data flows across fiber-optic cables that carry information between the data centers of Yahoo and Google, the newspaper said.
The NSA's acquisitions directorate sends millions of records every day from Yahoo and Google internal networks to data warehouses at the agency's Fort Meade headquarters, the Post added, citing a secret accounting report dated Jan. 9, 2013.
In the preceding 30 days, the report said, field collectors had processed and sent back 181,280,466 new records, ranging from "metadata," which would indicate who sent or received e-mails and when, to content such as text, audio and video.
The NSA already collects data from Google, Yahoo and other tech companies under a separate program known as PRISM, which legally compels them to provide the agency with information that matches court-approved search terms.
The large-scale collection of data that is happening through the MUSCULAR program would be illegal in the United States, but the operations take place overseas, where the NSA is allowed to presume that anyone using a foreign data link is a foreigner, the Washington Post explained.
"We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fiber networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform," said David Drummond, chief legal officer at Google.
"We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping, which is why we have continued to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links, especially the links in the slide," he added. "We do not provide any government, including the U.S. government, with access to our systems."
Yahoo spokeswoman Sarah Meron said the company has "strict controls" over the security of its data centers and it has not given any governments access to its data centers.
The revelations about the NSA's snooping online have promoted a push to change regulations. On Tuesday, a bipartisan reform bill to rein in the NSA's bulk collection, analysis, and storage of Americans' electronic communications was introduced in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
"Our system of judicial and congressional oversight of the NSA is fundamentally broken, and dragnet programs like this one are the result," said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "If we want the right to privacy to survive the NSA's assault on it, we need both Congress and the courts once again to play the role the constitution envisioned for them."