The special counsel's investigation of the origins of the FBI's probe into Donald Trump's 2016 campaign's Russia connections has yielded revelations of a different sort: how extensively U.S. government agencies and private cybersecurity companies monitor the flow of web traffic with little oversight, the Wall Street Journal reports. Recent court filings in prosecutor John Durham's case against cybersecurity lawyer Michael Sussmann, as well as documents obtained by the Journal, show how web traffic data can at times be reverse-engineered to link online activity back to specific individuals or organizations.
Unlike the disclosures by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden nearly a decade ago, that U.S. intelligence programs relied on covert access to private data streams, Durham's probe concerns commercial information that is often being shared with or sold to the government in bulk. Former government officials and cybersecurity experts said such network data can help governments and companies detect and counter cyberattacks. But the ability to monitor the data also has privacy implications, as the tracing of traffic back to Trump's Manhattan address showed. Today, “you have enough data and computing power that you can generate intrusive insights from data that is fairly unregulated," said Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute who researches privacy and technology issues.