A company or organization with higher capability of surveillance than NSA

Maybe, my question is not well enough thought out but please let me ask it.

I assume that NSA is a governmental organization of the US with the highest technical and human resource capability to make surveillance and retrieve data or information from any type of computer system.

I wonder whether technology, defence, software companies etc. around the world have the same potential or capability to make surveillance or provide more valuable information to the governments.

If you mean overall capability, the answer is definitely no. No one else–even other nations–has the same budget, direct physical access to the architecture of the internet, satellites and monitoring arrays, and all the rest.

If you mean capability in particular areas–like writing malicious code or discovering a vulnerability to a security protocol–then the answer is definitely yes. In fact, much of the NSA’s power comes from the ability to purchase useful exploits from security researchers.

As Richard Parker says, yes - there are companies who supply specialized products/tools to NSA. NSA is also heavily dependent on contractors with expertise in various areas. It’s rather uncommon, though, for any vendor/contracted entity to know the full scope of what they’re what they’re working on (compartmentalization prevents cross-contamination). Often, a large prime contractor (think Lockheed, Raytheon, CACI, or whatever) subs portions of a project out to smaller companies who work in near-isolation.

I would say Google and possibly Facebook and Amazon in the rear.

The “surveillance” capabilities on semantic content analysis is a major field of R&D for NSA and business analysts. Google’s investment in AI (not necessarily exclusive to this area) is enormous.

For one thing (as I remembered after having “lost” all my emails) Google has perhaps the largest private database of natural language communications, each of which comes nicely pre-wrapped with myriad contextual links.

Every Google (GMail) email, or document/picture/item manipulated and posted with one of their online apps, is theirs after six months unless you remove it.

As noted above, private contractors are used all the time; and, relative to some of the comments here, I recall the discussion in the '80s when off-the-shelf procurement became a thing, how quickly graphics technology/simulation got dropped from DARPA and Pentagon R&D budgets.

Google would seem to come closest but nowhere near the same scope. There is a saying in NSA, nobody but us. By this they mean they won’t inform anyone of potential exploits so long as nobody besides NSA could possibly exploit it. Usually due to the sheer processing power they can throw at an issue.

How about China? Especially given how much of the internet’s infrastructure - routers and the like - is made over there. And don’t forget the vast numbers of people that they have. Don’t underestimate the human angle. They have satellites too.

I think Google beats them all by a large margin at least for regular people that have some sort of device with a Google account on it (that is very significant percentage of people). Google tracks a scary amount of things about you including all of your searches over time and your locations unless you tell it not to explicitly. I am not faulting them for it. It is a great service that makes my life much easier and they will show you at least some of what they know about you and allow you to opt out which I did. I am not confident that deleting your own information truly gets rid of it behind the scenes but at least it makes it harder for anyone that gets access to your Google account to pull it up using a web tool that Google itself provides. I seriously doubt the NSA knows as much about me as Google does.

Here is your own history that they admit to storing if you have a Google account.


There are also 1.4 billion people using Android devices. Every one of those will report back data to Google, unless you opt out of it (which I suspect less than half do). And most of the limits Google has are self-imposed, so what they have the capability for is far greater. For instance, they have the capability (even if they’ve never used it) to push out an OS update that would enable them to turn the microphone on remotely, store what it hears, and transmit it to Google at their leisure. Is there any other organization in the world that has 1.4 billion bugs available to it?

As for hardware, you’d have a better argument for the Republic of China (i.e, Taiwan), AFAIK. A lot more critical hardware is made there than on the mainland.

But that’s only a piece. Basically, no one can rival the NSA because no one has been able to pour as much money into it as the US over decades and decades. You could make an argument that the PRC is now pouring billions into cybersecurity every year, but even if that doubtful premise were true, it’s not enough to counter decades of spending (yet).

We know that the NSA does things like physically tap into the underwater fiber optic cables that connect the internet across continents. I don’t think anyone has suggested that China has that capacity yet.

That said, the question is regional to some extent. The NSA has a lot more power in Europe and North America than in China.

As Snowden revealed, everything that Google (and Yahoo and other services with servers on the US mainland) knows about you the NSA also knows. And they also know a lot more.

Not an answer, but I watched a BBC documentary tonight about Gordon Welchman who, they claimed, was the architect of modern surveillance systems. He worked at Bletchley Park during WW2 and moved to MIT after that until he wrote a book and got frozen out.

His idea was called “Traffic Analysis” in which he did not look at the content of messages (encrypted anyway) but their source and destination. He was able over time, to build up a picture of what the Germans were up to, even though only very few of the coded messages were being decrypted. This is pretty much what NSA and GCHQ do today.

It’s important to remember that NSA isn’t just NSA. It’s the entire American intelligence community combined with the five eyes network of the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.