Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Watching the World

Trey Smith

The National Security Agency has developed a powerful tool for recording and analysing where its intelligence comes from, raising questions about its repeated assurances to Congress that it cannot keep track of all the surveillance it performs on American communications.

The Guardian has acquired top-secret documents about the NSA datamining tool, called Boundless Informant, that details and even maps by country the voluminous amount of information it collects from computer and telephone networks.

The focus of the internal NSA tool is on counting and categorizing the records of communications, known as metadata, rather than the content of an email or instant message.

The Boundless Informant documents show the agency collecting almost 3 billion pieces of intelligence from US computer networks over a 30-day period ending in March 2013. One document says it is designed to give NSA officials answers to questions like, "What type of coverage do we have on country X" in "near real-time by asking the SIGINT [signals intelligence] infrastructure."

An NSA factsheet about the program, acquired by the Guardian, says: "The tool allows users to select a country on a map and view the metadata volume and select details about the collections against that country."

Under the heading "Sample use cases", the factsheet also states the tool shows information including: "How many records (and what type) are collected against a particular country."

A snapshot of the Boundless Informant data, contained in a top secret NSA "global heat map" seen by the Guardian, shows that in March 2013 the agency collected 97bn pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide.
Yesterday I rather innocently suggested that readers who live outside of the US should be just as alarmed as Americans in regards to the far-reaching tentacles of the US security state. After writing that post Friday evening, The Guardian released its next bombshell on Saturday morning. It clearly confirmed that the US indeed is datamining all over the globe. (To see a sinister-looking image of the Boundless Informant "global heat map", go here.)

That figure in the last paragraph of the snippet above should cause everybody to take pause. In merely one month's time, the NSA collect over 97 BILLION pieces of information from all corners of the globe. That number boggles the mind. It is hard for any of us to wrap our heads around.

Since there certainly aren't 97 billion terrorists afoot, the vast majority of this information comes from regular Joes and Janes like you and me. President Obama and his security head have stated profusely that they aren't analyzing or scrutinizing all this information, but why should we believe them? If their goal is not to analyze all this data, why obtain it in the first place?

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