More than twenty U.S. government agencies have access to a search engine known as ICREACH. A new report from The Intercept has revealed the system, which was launched way back in 2007. The stated goal of ICREACH was to allow members of the government groups to quickly sift through more than 850 billion metadata records about phone calls, emails, cellphone locations and internet chats. What makes the ICREACH system desirable as a government search tool is its straightforward interface. In internal documentation, it’s referred to as being “Google-like”, allowing researchers to dig into metadata records by punching in simple selectors like email addresses and phone numbers.
ICREACH contains information on the private communications of foreigners, along with millions of records on American citizens. Key participants and users of the system are listed as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Information shared through ICREACH can be used to track people’s movements, map out their networks of associates, help predict future actions, and potentially reveal religious affiliations or political beliefs.
According to The Intercept’s Ryan Gallagher, it’s that bit about foreigners that affords ICREACH much of its immunity from congressional oversight. Legal experts told The Intercept they were shocked to learn about the scale of the ICREACH system and are concerned that law enforcement authorities might use it for domestic investigations that are not related to terrorism. The NSA described ICREACH as a “one-stop shopping tool” for analyzing communications.
All-in-all, ICREACH seems to be an effective tool for the NSA and other government agencies to protect U.S. citizens, while keeping a close eye on potential terrorists. The trick is striking a balance between keeping us safe and invading our privacy.
Sources: The Intercept/Engadget