NSA spying: lots of 'incidental' scooping up of information

How much of the online data intercepted by the NSA actually belonged to suspects it was targeting? Not much, because 90 percent of the data it scooped up belonged to people it wasn’t targeting, according to the Washington Post. This, plus what type of communications were intercepted, are the latest revelations based on the Edward Snowden leaks.

It’s been reported that the NSA’s spying on foreign anti-terrorism suspects have included hoovering in data of non-suspects, and of Americans. The Post examined 160,000 pieces of emails and instant-message conversations sent from 2009 to 2012. It found incidental collection of suggestive photos, medical records, resumes, conversations about secret love affairs. Also, cases in which all traffic from servers using certain IP addresses was intercepted. This is what programs such as Prism — which collects information from Internet giants such as Google, Facebook and others (some of it without the companies’ knowledge, the companies say) — has wrought.

Last week, we wrote about the government’s release of some numbers regarding its collection of data. But from the Post’s report:

If Snowden’s sample is representative, the population under scrutiny in the PRISM and Upstream programs is far larger than the government has suggested. In a June 26 ‘transparency report,’ the Office of the Director of National Intelligence disclosed that 89,138 people were targets of last year’s collection under FISA Section 702. At the 9-to-1 ratio of incidental collection in Snowden’s sample, the office’s figure would correspond to nearly 900,000 accounts, targeted or not, under surveillance.


Photo: The National Security Agency building at Fort Meade, Md. (Charles Dharapak/Associated Press archives)

Levi Sumagaysay Levi Sumagaysay (4255 Posts)

Levi Sumagaysay is editor of the combined SiliconBeat and Good Morning Silicon Valley. She also helps take care of SiliconValley.com, the Mercury News tech website. Email: lsumagaysay@bayareanewsgroup.com