Privacy

Does your web traffic pass through an NSA listening point?

File photo - A detail from graffiti art is seen on a wall near the headquarters of Britain's eavesdropping agency, Government Communications Headquarters, known as GCHQ, in Cheltenham, western England April 16, 2014. (REUTERS/Eddie Keogh)

File photo - A detail from graffiti art is seen on a wall near the headquarters of Britain's eavesdropping agency, Government Communications Headquarters, known as GCHQ, in Cheltenham, western England April 16, 2014. (REUTERS/Eddie Keogh)

An internet mapping tool can show where your web traffic passes through suspected NSA listening points, according to its creators.

Developed by privacy advocates in Canada, IXmaps, or “Internet Exchange Maps,” aims to help internet users and researchers learn about the surveillance and privacy issues associated with internet routing.

“The original goal was to investigate NSA surveillance of internet traffic and be able to determine which internet routes pass through interception sites,” Andrew Clement, Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, who leads the IXmaps project, told Fox News via email.

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The project, which started in 2008, was initially developed to show Canadian citizens how their data travels across the web, although users in other countries, such as the U.S., are also harnessing the tool.

“Whenever you visit a website, send an email, use a social media app, etc., your data moves across the internet in a series of "hops," starting from your device and then passed from one router to the next until it reaches its destination. The routers along the way belong to a variety of carriers and are housed in internet exchanges,” IXmaps explains, on its website.

The tool maps the sequence of routers and hops, called a “traceroute,” based on its estimate of the routers’ physical locations.

Citing information leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, IXmaps notes that the NSA and other signals intelligence agencies are intercepting data “on the fly as it travels across the internet.”

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“The NSA takes the lead in this spying and has installed interception facilities at major internet switching sites within the U.S. as well as globally,” it explains. “Locating interception facilities in as few as 18 cities is sufficient to capture nearly 100% of internet communications originating within or passing through the U.S.”

Users can search traceroutes highlighting the suspected NSA listening points between different cities. They can also anonymously contribute their own traceroutes to the mapping tool’s database, which contains over 170,000 traceroutes. “The more distinct the originating points, in terms of both city and ISP, and the more varied the destination targets, the better able we are to display interesting internet routings,” IXmaps says on its website.

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To contribute data, users install traceroute generating software developed by the IXMaps team.

Clement explained that the site has recently been upgraded. “The most recent version is a re-design of the original research platform to enable individuals not already familiar with internet routing to be able see for themselves the paths their personal data takes and if it may be subject to surveillance at one of the 18 suspected NSA surveillance sites.”

The project has received funding from the Social Sciences and Research Council of Canada, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the Canadian Internet Registration Authority.

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The NSA has not yet responded to a request for comment on this story.

Data privacy is firmly in the spotlight following the House of Representative’s vote earlier this week to block online privacy regulations issued during the final months of the Obama administration.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers