A few posts ago I mentioned that the Government was spying on us no matter where we lived… I was asked how did they spy on us?!?
Before we go into details we must explain how the area in question works…
First off, the Internet is devised as networks communicating with one another. If for some reason the information you are looking for or sending to is not on the same network then the protocols established transfer the data over to the gateway. It works the same way at a home hi-speed network (which usually sends and receives all data through the gateway). The home network is connected (via gateway) to your provider’s network (cable/xDSL/phone all the same). Your provider is connected to it’s provider through it’s gateway (most likely a tier 3 or some cases a tier 2). Thus all networks are connected via gateways until you come to the master network ( called a tier 1 network) who’s job is to route the data to the correct sub network and work drilling down to the correct sub network.
The scope of this article is not to explain the details of data transfer or routing but the main concept. If you are interested in these concepts there are thousands of books and web pages on the Internet explaining the details of it.
For the sake of this article we note the data to and from the provider is bidirectional (meaning it travels both ways to and from the provider) depending on routing of the data. Say you send an email from your phone. The Data travels to the provider and is routed to the cloud. It can also happen in reverse, say someone sends you an email then the data is routed to your provider until it hits your phone. Note there are much more detail routing details here (like clients, servers, dns, routing, poling, pushing) but we are not going to confuse you now.
Also we must establish an hierarchy of networks. Keep everything related to the master network. Everything farther-away is called down-streaming. Everything that is closer to the master network is called up-streaming. Using that logic, a consumer using a phone is down-stream from the provider.
And the provider is up-stream from the consumer.
Now that we have a concept on how it works, we must now show you how the Government spies on us. To make sure to get all the data as its intended, the Governments place a device that they call a TAP up-stream from the provider. In many cases its in the same building the provider is in. This allows the Government to copy all data sent and received to store onto their secured network storage. Then the “watchers” then go through the data looking for anything they were told to look through… It dawns on a lot of people that the storage needed for such a feat would be too enormous for are’s/your’s Government to handle… Well think about it… Today’s tech is designed to be modular on demand. It just takes money to add storage when needed… And today’s Governments seem to have a lot of money to waste today?!? I know the NSA boasts they capture 4 Gb of data a day… You do the math…
Well once they are tapped into the connection up-streamed from the provider then they can now capture all the data needed. Note here that email, normal web browsing, texting, video / audio streaming are not encrypted. If one was to encrypt the data before going to the provider and then decrypt the data after the other provider then the Government or any other multi-letter agency wouldn’t have a clue on what was the data was… Keep in mind like I stated before, if you start encrypting your data to and from points on the Internet the Government will RED FLAG YOU and your RECIPIENT / SENDER for special interests. The way the internet works to transfer data is based on headers (meta data) which cannot be encrypted. This is how the Government can track us.
I hope this answers a lot of questions on this topic. As I said before its not very detailed and does not cover a lot of protocols, but it does cover how they do it.