When the whole PRISM-gate erupted, much to the sheer embarrassment of NSA, the tech companies were quick to cite that they didn’t have any conscious knowledge about the PRISM program. Considering the scenario, it seems that NSA might have directly wiretapped Tier 1 networks in the U.S., granting them access to virtually all data generated online.
Before explaining how NSA could’ve pulled off this feat, you need to understand what Tier 1 networks are and how they are critically central to the so-called decentralized internet.
What are Tier 1 networks?
Internet may well be decentralized in a certain manner of speaking, but the underlying structure of internet is really quite central. To be more precise, all the major companies, services and websites run atop Tier 1 networks providers. These networks provide high-speed connectivity and data transfer to these entities.
For instance, when Google stores its user data, that data is stored in the search giant’s own data centers. But before reaching these data centers, the data travels across the Tier 1 networks.
Now here’s the catch: there are only a dozen or so Tier 1 networks around the globe. In other words, these dozen or so entities have the effective control of internet and if they all are shut down simultaneously, the internet would be doomed. Among these Tier 1 networks, AT&T, Verizon Business, Level 3 and Sprint are in the U.S., NTT Communications in Japan and few others in Europe.
Online services and websites have to inevitably rely on these Tier 1 networks to keep their data transfer speedy and real-time. The downside of that is that all the data on the internet essentially flows through the infrastructure of these Tier 1 networks.
How could NSA wiretap Tier 1 networks?
Since we have already seen how Verizon was forced to relinquish its control over its own data, letting NSA tap into it, it seems quite probable that NSA is wiretapping the Tier 1 networks directly, rather than going after individual companies. NSA could’ve done this by wiretapping the optic fiber cables of the Tier 1 companies in the U.S.
In this way, NSA doesn’t even need to gain permission from companies such as Google or Yahoo to tap into their data. The security agency can simply do this by keeping an eye on all Tier 1 networks. As soon as any user on any of the aforementioned services initiates a session, data is transferred. And since that data travels through Tier 1 networks, NSA has active, real-time access to it.
In a way, this is a state of affairs which is even more worse than what Orwell presented in his ‘1984.’ And the worst of it is that the state continues to cite its ‘democratic values’ which at the same time, violating them brazenly and then going on to defend them.