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'ScareMail' seeks to confuse NSA programs with nonsense

Published time: October 10, 2013 01:44
Edited time: October 11, 2013 13:22
Reuters / Toru Hanai

Reuters / Toru Hanai

An Illinois man has developed a Gmail browser extension designed to randomly insert fake, nonsensical stories into the signature of every email one sends to confuse the NSA’s surveillance operations.

Benjamin Grosser says “ScareMail” takes keywords from an extensive US Department of Homeland Security list used to troll social media websites and utilizes them “to disrupt the NSA’s surveillance efforts by making NSA search results useless.”

The buzzwords include the likes of “Al-Qaeda” and “Al-Shabab,” yet also more mundane terms like “breach,” “threat,” “death” and “hostage,” among many others.

Documents released by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA uses the “selector” terms to sift through Internet data it collects via a tool known as XKEYSCORE.”

“If every email contains the word ‘plot,’ or ‘facility,’ for example, then searching for those words becomes a fruitless exercise. A search that returns everything is a search that returns nothing of use,” Grosser says.

Grosser, 43, said the extension tool, which took him about three weeks to build, is a form of protest in that he hopes it will overwhelm or frustrate the agency’s programs with superfluous information.

For example, he shows on his website how a typical ScareMail sentence could begin: "Captain Beatty failed on his Al-Shabaab, hacking relentlessly about the fact to phish this far, and strand her group on the wall-to-wall in calling suspicious packages...."

Not only is ScareMail designed to combat NSA spying, but it is a project aimed at exploring the relationship between words and surveillance. He writes on his site, the “ability to use whatever words we want is one of our most basic freedoms, yet the NSA’s growing surveillance of electronic speech threatens our first amendment rights… ScareMail reveals one of the primary flaws of the NSA’s surveillance efforts: words do not equal intent.”