NSA Reveals Extent of its Internet Traffic Spying

Dennis Faas's picture

The secretive National Security Agency (NSA) insists it only studies about 1.6 per cent of all Internet traffic. The agency suggests that means its level of data collection is comparable in scope to a "dime on a basketball court."

The NSA was at the center of a media firestorm earlier this year when whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the details about the agency's controversial PRISM surveillance program.

Snowden is now hiding out in Russia (where he's been granted asylum) while, back home, U.S. President Barack Obama faces tough questions about the NSA's activity.

NSA Studies Tiny Fraction of Internet Activity

In an effort to sooth concerns about the extent of its surveillance, late last week the NSA released a new reported titled "The National Security Agency: Missions, Authorities, Oversight, and Partnerships."

(The report can be viewed in PDF form by clicking here.)

In that report the NSA insists it has only dabbled in the enormous amount of data available on the Internet each day.

"According to figures published by a major tech provider, the Internet carries 1,826 Petabytes of information per day," the report reads. (Source: nsa.gov)

"In its foreign intelligence mission, NSA touches about 1.6% of that. However, of the 1.6% of the data, only 0.025% is actually selected for review. The net effect is that NSA analysts look at 0.00004% of the world's traffic in conducting their mission -- that's less than one part in a million."

The report goes on to suggest that "if a standard basketball court represented the global communications environment, [the] NSA's total collection would be represented by an area smaller than a dime on a basketball court."

9/11 Results in Surveillance Surge

In explaining its (apparently limited) surveillance coverage, the NSA points to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as a key factor.

After 9/11 the NSA reached the conclusion that it "did not have the tools or the database to search to identify these [terrorist] connections and share them with the FBI." (Source: cnet.com)

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