75% – Wow, that’s a lot isn’t it? We’re talking about the latest reveal here in the capabilities of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance program. The revelation come from the Wall Street Journal today and it is getting lots of attention because it now seems the volume of their reach is like nothing we ever dreamed of before and the public acknowledgement from the agency hadn’t even suggested anything on this scale. The report cites former and current NSA officials on that figure. If true it seems to indicate that the NSA has the ability to observe a significant amount of online communications and one can only assume that is something that will increase.
Further described is the system of programs that make up this ability. Clearly getting through the internet data, call data, chat data of 75% of every individual in the country in real time requires some sophisticated systems. It’s not all that different from what we’ve gathered in previous disclosures, but it bears the hallmarks of massive data operations without a doubt. The programs filter communications based on values they are looking for, in coordination of major telecommunications companies. This way they can filter down for example any communications that start or end outside of the country, or pass through the United States. Algorithms filter information within the system, sifting out the data that has little value and isolating the high value information. According to the report, the definition of reasonable intelligence collection shifted after September 11, 2001 and the attacks that happened that day, in an effort to widen the abilities to find information leading up to terrorist incidents. That statement right there seems to indicate that the systems existed in some form before 9/11 and has been transforming since according to capabilities and technology that drives them.
The report furthers the impression of widespread NSA monitoring in almost every way imaginable, cell calls, internet, phone, chat, email, you name it. It’s non-stop scouring. I expect however that some deep analysis of exactly what this means will be forthcoming from a technical point of view. We are talking about some very serious scale here, massive and unheard of volumes of data that must be analyzed quickly in basically real time. There are many who doubt the technical viability of such a massive operation and I am personally on the fence on whether this is possible or not. In the meantime the country continues to struggle with the meaning of all this, what it has meant to personal freedom, and we continue to watch how exactly this all shakes out. It is pretty clear we are not going back, but just when exactly does this go back to? I don’t recall ever having the option to “opt out” or being notified at any one point and many people would consider that a big issue. As they say this story is still developing and we’re looking at this play out, and analyzing the meaning in all this. I’m especially interested in the technical elements of how this hypothetical system works.