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US agency defends use of spy system to intercept web activity, claims its legal

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By Paul Wafula and Agencies | June 11th 2013
US agency spying whistle-blower goes into hiding.

By Paul Wafula and Agencies

Kenya: The US government has termed a system that allows it to intercept almost every communication in the world as ‘lawful’.

Director of National Intelligence Agency (NSA) James R Clapper said the purpose of the infrastructure is ‘to obtain foreign intelligence information, including information necessary to thwart terrorist and cyber attacks against the United States and its allies.’

“The surveillance activities… are lawful and conducted under authorities widely known and discussed, and fully debated and authorised by Congress,” Clapper said in a statement.

The system named PRISM collects emails, chat logs and other types of data from Internet companies including Google, Facebook, Microsoft Corporation, Yahoo! AOL, Apple among others.

Direct access

Facebook, Google and Yahoo! have however, denied giving the US spy programme direct access to their customers’ data.

The NSA infrastructure has the capability of automatically ingesting the vast majority of human communications without targeting. For instance if the US wants to see your emails, all it has to do is use intercepts.

Through this it can get your emails, passwords, phone records and even credit card details.

Kenya is the second country in the continent after Egypt, and the first in Sub-Saharan Africa on the list of these activities in Africa, according to top-secret documents published on Sunday.

The US has been on an expansive data-collection mission set to rattle the whole world and shape the future of the Internet.

A 29-year-old computer technician named Edward Snowden, who had worked as a contactor at the NSA, the biggest and most secretive surveillance organisation in America, broke the surveillance.

Mr Snowden told the Guardian last week that the US government was destroying privacy, Internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.

Snowden told The Guardian “they are intent on making every conversation and every form of behaviour in the world known to them.”

Banking information

The whistleblower, who is seeking asylum in China, described as formative an incident in which he claimed CIA operatives were attempting to recruit a Swiss banker to obtain secret banking information.

Snowden said they achieved this by purposely getting the banker drunk and encouraging him to drive home in his car. When the banker was arrested for drunk driving, the undercover agent seeking to befriend him offered to help, and a bond was formed that led to successful recruitment.

A section of US politicians condemned the whistleblower meanwhile, the US intelligence chief has threatened him with prosecution after he revealed himself as the Guardian’s source for a series of explosive leaks on the NSA and cyber surveillance.

The revelation that Kenya is among the country’s that is under most surveillance is set to renew concerns on privacy and security of Kenya’s data coming just months after Kenya was ranked among six African countries under another cyber espionage that has been stealing confidential documents since 2007 from diplomatic and government agencies.

The report by Internet security firm Kaspersky, lists Kenya among 43 countries in the world that have fallen victim to the virus dubbed Red October (Rocra) in the last half a decade.

Preliminary findings showed that the massive cyber-attack, which was still on by January 2013 when the report was being compiled is targeted at government institutions such as embassies, nuclear research centres and oil and gas institutes.

Compromised organisations

“The main objective of the attackers was to gather intelligence from compromised organisations, which included computer systems, personal mobile devices and network equipment,” reads part of the 100-page report published this week.

The malware attack, which went undetected until October last year was designed to retrieve encrypted files and was even able to recover files that had been deleted.

“The main purpose of the operation appears to be the gathering of classified information and geopolitical intelligence,” the report adds.

Rocra sucks up all files including word documents, Excel files, PDFs, among others.

Its victims are also carefully selected and are mostly ‘high-profile’ organisations.

 It even monitors when a USB storage device is plugged into a computer, and it will try to undelete files.

The revelation, which is set to renew debate on just how safe Kenyan data stored in Government agencies is, comes just months after another attack hit over 100 Government websites.

The Kaspersky research was conducted in October 2012 and it lists Morocco, South Africa, Uganda, Congo and Tanzania as the other African countries that have already been attacked.

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