Team Cymru’s Mass Surveillance Products Are Like the NSA With Even Fewer Warrants

Do you remember having the capacity for shock?

To be fair, it may have been muted by years of relentless news stories exploring an entire industry of privacy invasions. Some of these articles might involve subjects familiar to you; perhaps you were an early worrier about how Facebook apps could harvest data on users’ friends, a capability which the company later found was happening at shocking scale. Unfortunately, most of the general-audience press began paying attention to these concerns after the 2016 U.S. election, when that Facebook scandal was disproportionately blamed for a particularly idiotic presidency. But, at last, mainstream newsrooms did cover these problems, and they brought the budget, sources, and access to uncover some truly horrifying news items, with such regularity that my ability to be shocked has been blunted.

This made my jaw drop.

Joseph Cox, Vice:

Multiple branches of the U.S. military have bought access to a powerful internet monitoring tool that claims to cover over 90 percent of the world’s internet traffic, and which in some cases provides access to people’s email data, browsing history, and other information such as their sensitive internet cookies, according to contracting data and other documents reviewed by Motherboard.


“The network data includes data from over 550 collection points worldwide, to include collection points in Europe, the Middle East, North/South America, Africa and Asia, and is updated with at least 100 billion new records each day,” a description of the Augury platform in a U.S. government procurement record reviewed by Motherboard reads. It adds that Augury provides access to “petabytes” of current and historical data.

The NSA and GCHQ have, for years, intercepted and ingested data as it flows from server farms through fibre optic cables and across the internet. These programs built upon previous general surveillance efforts like the FBI’s Carnivore software.

These wildly intrusive and untargeted capabilities, once the domain of government intelligence gathering efforts, now appear to be offered to anyone who can afford whatever Team Cymru is charging. Regardless of your opinion of the programs operated by the NSA and GCHQ, at least they had the appearance of formal controls and specific goals. As Cox reports, now that the monitoring is done by a private business, it eliminates the need for pesky roadblocks like warrants.

This is wild, too:

Beyond his day job as CEO of Team Cymru, Rabbi Rob Thomas also sits on the board of the Tor Project, a privacy focused non-profit that maintains the Tor software. That software is what underpins the Tor anonymity network, a collection of thousands of volunteer-run servers that allow anyone to anonymously browse the internet.

I am not sure if the dissidents and drug seekers who rely on Tor should be worried, but I do not know what to make of this conflict. The Tor Project says there is no conflict of interest, though, so I feel silly.