National Security

Foreigners Still Vulnerable To NSA Snooping

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Mikko Hypponen is a "white hat" hacker in Finland who breaks into security systems to test network safety. Hypponen tells NPR's Guy Raz of the TED Radio Hour that Americans may be protected under NSA reforms, but foreigners like himself aren't.


We now know that the government's spy agency is Hoovering up billions of bits of data from our phone calls and emails. But we don't really know how it's being used. Much of it apparently just sits in a giant top-secret storage facility in Utah. And that makes some people nervous, especially many foreigners on whom we're spying. Here's Guy Raz of NPR's TED Radio Hour.

GUY RAZ, BYLINE: Picture the largest Ikea you've ever been in. And now picture five of them.

MIKKO HYPPONEN: We've only seen photos taken far away of the building. But we know about the size of the facility, and it's 140,000 square meters.

RAZ: This Mikko Hypponen. He's called a White Hat, which means he's a good hacker - he goes after the bad hackers. And he's from Finland.

HYPPONEN: It's in fact the largest data center on the planet.

RAZ: And we know more about what might be stored there thanks to Edward Snowden. Emails, google searches, text messages - many of them belonging to people outside the U.S. Here's part of Mikko's TED Talk.

HYPPONEN: Wholesale blanket surveillance on everyone - well, not exactly everyone, 'cause the U.S. intelligence only has a legal right to monitor foreigners when foreigners' data connections end up in United States or pass through United States. And monitoring foreigners doesn't sound too bad until you realize, in fact, 96 percent of the planet are foreigners. And then there's the argument - all countries spy. But let's take an example. Let's take, for example, Sweden. Sweden has a little bit similar law to the United States. When your data traffic goes through Sweden, their intelligence agency has a legal right by the law to intercept that traffic. All right. How many Swedish decision makers and politicians and business leaders use everyday U.S.-based services? Like, you know, run Windows or OSX, or use Facebook or LinkedIn? And the answer is, every single Swedish business leader does that every single day. And then we turn it around. How many American leaders use Swedish Web mails and cloud services? And the answer is zero.

RAZ: That actually struck me when you said that in your talk because I was like, yeah, you know, I'm American so maybe I'm not as bothered by it because there are legal protections, right? I mean, even though...

HYPPONEN: You're protected. I'm not. However, I have been in contact with people who are involved with WikiLeaks. People involved with WikiLeaks are definitely persons of interest to U.S. intelligence agencies, which means I'm one hop away from them, which makes me someone to be followed. And since we are now speaking right now, we are connected, which makes you somebody they might have an interest what you are actually doing.


SIMON: That was Mikko Hypponen speaking to Guy Raz of the TED Radio Hour, who should start being more careful on the phone. This is NPR News.

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