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NSA Admits Searching "3 Hops" From Suspects 322

Posted by timothy
from the extrapolation-nation dept.
New submitter cpitman writes "In a house hearing Wednesday the NSA admitted that it could query not only a suspect's records, but also perform up to a 'three hop query'. Considering that most people in the world are separated by under 6 degrees of separation, the NSA essentially claims that any single suspect gives them rights to investigate a large chunk of the world's population. With the terror watch list having over 700,000 names, just how many times has Kevin Bacon been investigated?"
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NSA Admits Searching "3 Hops" From Suspects

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  • by intermodal (534361) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @05:46PM (#44322181) Homepage Journal

    At this revelation, it doesn't take a libertarian to point out that this isn't based on probable cause.

    • by vux984 (928602) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @05:49PM (#44322199)

      Oh I dunno. If a terrorist suspects real-estate agents daughter's mechanic fixes your car don't you think the NSA should have that information?

    • At this revelation, it doesn't take a libertarian to point out that this isn't based on probable cause.

      Just as 'due process of law' is a process that you do that involves law in some capacity, which successfully enlegalizes all sorts of handy stuff, 'probable cause' is a cause that has an associated probability.

      I think that it's abundantly clear, even provable with math, that all the NSA's activities have causes with probabilities associated.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Court rulings have excluded pen register records from the 4th amendment. Pen register records were records of what numbers had been dialed from a phone line and to a phone line. This will be the administration's defense of these practices in the just-filed court cases.

      These cases could go either way, but I expect the court to be skeptical about the government's current practices of routinely collecting this data on millions of Americans.

      We need to protest loudly, as these programs are also a gigantic wast

      • by plover (150551)

        And if it produces 10,000 false positives to yield one valuable lead, how does that impact you? It's not like that turns into 10,000 knocks on 10,000 doors by 10,000 special agents. It gives them more trails to follow.

        Not trying to defend the program in any way, just pointing out that at a certain point in the process mistakes cost very little. It may be no more consequential than typing a million lines of code and needing to use the backspace key 10,000 times.

        • Have they specified what they do with the 10,000 misses though?

          You are assuming they say "Oh this info is just the guy's mechanic. We'll delete it."
          But what if they run a trawl and store any data that pops up in to your 'file' for a indefinite amount of time?

    • Most folks are pretty inured. Bradley Manning thought those little snippets he exposed would get Americans marching in the street, and dozens probably did, though I did not hear of it.

    • by bondsbw (888959)

      What worries me as much, or more, is that we have over 700,000 people on the terror watch list.

      Nay, over 875,000 [washingtontimes.com].

      That's larger [wikipedia.org] that the populations of South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, D.C., Vermont, Wyoming, every US territory except Puerto Rico, and 35% of the countries and dependent territories [wikipedia.org] in the world.

      • by cold fjord (826450) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @06:54PM (#44322809)

        You seem to have skipped over some key data.

        Terror watch list grows to 875,000 [washingtontimes.com]

        As of December 2012, a factsheet from the center states, TIDE contained over 875,000 entries. Each one represents a known or suspected terrorist and includes all their known aliases and spelling variations on their name, the official said.

        Less than one percent, or fewer than 9,000, were Americans, including both citizens and legal permanent residents, he said, adding the center does not release exact numbers.

        That is a pretty small portion of both the US and world populations.

        • by sjames (1099)

          Now, let's apply the 3 hop rule to those 9000 and see how many non-terror suspects in America have their phone records examined (4 hops away will have some records examined as well, of course).

          • by Jstlook (1193309) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @08:56PM (#44323651)
            Let's even just estimate:

            Facebook says most people really only associate with 30 'friends'.

            Hop 1: 9000 x 30 = 270k people.

            Assuming that those people have associates that overlap the existing list somehow, we arrive at:

            Hop 2: 270k x 15 + 270k= 4.32 million people

            With a conservative estimate of the last hop only adding another three to twelve people, you're still talking between:

            Hop 3: 4.32m + (4.05m x 3-12) = 16.47 million to 52.92 million people
            • by Kielistic (1273232) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @09:21PM (#44323815)

              I would assume you are low-balling quite a bit as well. As theory goes 6 hops will get you to anyone on the planet. Continental United States is probably much less than 6 degrees of seperation.

              If I were a paranoid man I might consider someone in the NSA knew this and calculated the least number of people necessary to cover every man, woman and child in the US while making the number they're following seem "small" (anyone not connected within the 3 hops is already flagged for being "anti-social"). I'm not actually paranoid though and I figure it's just harmful stupidity.

  • by DarkOx (621550) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @05:54PM (#44322249) Journal

    I think whats clear is that despite the apologists claims to the contrary; be they from the NSA, Administration, or Congress there was no effective oversize of these programs. Feel good political firewalls are not a strategy. Its a universal truth just about any information gathered will be turned to unintended ends. All it will ever take is some SOB come along and make the right excuses and justifications, creatively define a few terms and suddenly the laws governing the use of the data are meaningless.

    If we don't want our government to abuse this type of data the only solution bar them from getting it in the first place.

  • It's 4.74, not 6 (Score:5, Informative)

    by cultiv8 (1660093) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @05:55PM (#44322259) Homepage
    On the internet, it's 4.74 degrees of separation [nytimes.com].
    • by medv4380 (1604309)
      That's only of people on Facebook. If you included someone like me it would jump to infinite because I have exactly 0 facebook friends by not using facebook.

      If you use the Dunbar number of 150 friends as your maximum you can get to 4 if everyone has the maximum and they are all unique associations. In the us we have very few friends [discovery.com] per person. If you assume 4 unique friends the "3 hop" query only returns 160-640 results, and with 10 it's between 1000 - 10000. No one is as social as facebook has lead you

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 18, 2013 @06:39PM (#44322673)

        The problem with your thinking is that the Dunbar number is limited by our brains. The internet and the NSA do not forget.

        Remember that guy who emailed you about that craigslist posting you put up a few years ago? No? Well, the NSA does.

        • by sirlark (1676276)

          The problem with your thinking is that the Dunbar number is limited by our brains. The internet and the NSA do not forget.

          Remember that guy who emailed you about that craigslist posting you put up a few years ago? No? Well, the NSA does.

          Exaclty! It's not about friends, it's about associations. Share a bank branch? That's an association. Shop at the same flower store, just once? That's an association. So the Dunbar number is not applicable. This is about all the people, institutions, companies, and services we interact with even only sporadically. 3 hops in this environment is a huge number of people

      • Citizen A (is a constituent of) Barak Obama (represents) Citizen B

        Viola, all US citizens are within two hops of each other.
        Remember it's the government who gets to define what "hops" means.
      • by hurfy (735314) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @07:59PM (#44323287)

        Well, if we start here with my 2726006 closest friends.......

        (yes it's actually more but i can't find the number anywhere, that was the biggest ID within a few pages)

      • On the internet, it's 4.74 degrees of separation.

        That's only of people on Facebook. In the us we have very few friends per person.

        This has nothing to do with friendship. It is connections in a network. These could be friends, acquaintances, family, your barista, your neighbour, your teacher.

        As far as the NSA scope is concerned, there is no requirement that a connection even requires a friendship or even any kind of social relationship. They simply need to connect 2 dots. Do you go to a certain gym on Thursdays? Now you have a connection with maybe 10, 50, or even 200 people. There is no social contract, it is not a cognitive connectio

  • What if the NSA searched the wrong solution set?

  • Congress is "angry" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SirGarlon (845873) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @05:58PM (#44322281)
    The first paragraph of TFA is:

    The National Security Agency revealed to an angry congressional panel on Wednesday that its analysis of phone records and online behavior goes exponentially beyond what it had previously disclosed.

    If it's true that members of Congress are angry, that's favorable news! Maybe they can be persuaded to get off their butts and do something about this.

    • by sexconker (1179573) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @06:05PM (#44322359)

      The first paragraph of TFA is:

      The National Security Agency revealed to an angry congressional panel on Wednesday that its analysis of phone records and online behavior goes exponentially beyond what it had previously disclosed.

      If it's true that members of Congress are angry, that's favorable news! Maybe they can be persuaded to get off their butts and do something about this.

      They only thing they're angry about is the fact that people found out.

      • The first paragraph of TFA is:

        The National Security Agency revealed to an angry congressional panel on Wednesday that its analysis of phone records and online behavior goes exponentially beyond what it had previously disclosed.

        If it's true that members of Congress are angry, that's favorable news! Maybe they can be persuaded to get off their butts and do something about this.

        They only thing they're angry about is the fact that people found out.

        Or they are afraid that they themselves are being monitored along with the proles.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by rhizome (115711)

      Has anybody mapped the anger to members who are up for re-election in 2014? Feinstein isn't up until 2016 I think, and she doesn't appear to be bummed about it at all.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Nice bias you got going on there.

        She as always backed the NSA and feels they should do whatever they want to 'protect america'.
        It has nothing to do with election.

        • Bias? Sounds to me like he hit the nail on the head: she supports the crap the NSA is pulling, and is up for re-election. The correct answer is to *not* re-elect here. It absolutely has everything to do with elections.

          • by compro01 (777531)

            Feinstein is not up for reelection. She was just reelected (overwhelmingly) in November, so she's not up for reelection until 2018.

      • Serve and protect.

      • by compro01 (777531)

        Feinstein was just reelected in November, so she isn't up for reelection again until 2018.

    • The first paragraph of TFA is:

      The National Security Agency revealed to an angry congressional panel on Wednesday that its analysis of phone records and online behavior goes exponentially beyond what it had previously disclosed.

      If it's true that members of Congress are angry, that's favorable news! Maybe they can be persuaded to get off their butts and do something about this.

      Don't be fooled - many of them voted the various laws into being, and they've made their entire careers off of convincing the public that they have our best interests in mind. Remember the feigned surprise from the other superpowers? Only to have them get outed by the US Government? THAT should tell you everything you need to know about our politicians. Not only were they unwilling to accept that they had been found out, but the first thing they did was throw all of their "friends" under the bus.

    • by cold fjord (826450) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @06:41PM (#44322699)

      If it's true that members of Congress are angry, that's favorable news! Maybe they can be persuaded to get off their butts and do something about this.

      If you review the Washington Times article it looks like Congress is of a mind to pare things back.

      Obama loses support for renewal of surveillance; NSA phone program will expire next year [washingtontimes.com]

      The lawmaker who wrote the USA Patriot Act said Wednesday that, as it stands, the House will never renew the provisions that the Obama administration uses to collect Americans’ phone records, meaning the government’s surveillance program will be cut off some time next year.

      Both Democrats and Republicans told top administration officials that they reject President Obama’s claim that the law allows the intelligence community to collect the phone numbers, time, date and duration of calls made by Americans, and they said Mr. Obama needs to change the way he is running the program if he wants to keep it intact.

      If they do cut back on surveillance it will probably be OK, for a while. Of course it won't just be surveillance that has been cut back. The Obama administration keeps killing terrorists instead of capturing and interrogating them which means a significant loss of intelligence information, and is one of the notable differences between Presidents Obama and Bush. (The reason: Obama doesn't want to be stuck with more prisoners and the messiness of trials. He doesn't want to use military commissions and the Congress and electorate oppose criminal law trials in civilian courts.) Beyond that, the Snowden revelations have already had the effect of causing terrorists to change their communications methods to avoid surveillance thus reducing intelligence even more. The combination of all three factors may lead to a significant loss of intelligence information.

      We'll see how it turns out. I won't be surprised if in the long run it turns out to be a riff on the old medical saw: The (intelligence) operations were a success, but the citizens died.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        We'll see how it turns out. I won't be surprised if in the long run it turns out to be a riff on the old medical saw: The (intelligence) operations were a success, but the citizens died.

        You really think that after all this country has been though, we're going to fall (or even worse: "...the citizens [die]") because of a few incompetent fools with explosive underwear and pressure cookers? Hell, if we had a 9/11 style incident (the worst attack on US soil) every day, it would take 291 years to kill all of the US citizens. That is a pretty pathetic threat to the US. Way more pathetic than the Cold War, which we were proud to keep our way of life throughout.

        I can't believe 9/11 turned us into

    • by Guru80 (1579277) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @06:52PM (#44322787)
      Of course members of congress are "Angry"TM, so "Angry"TM that they will make sure they let everyone that matters to their election know how "Angry"TM they are. They will even get all huffy and yell and tell the room they are so "Angry"TM and it isn't acceptable. Maybe even pound their fist and wag a finger all for the "Angry"TM dramatic flair....then go out for coffee and do absolutely nothing about it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They're angry that they were lied to. They hate that. Most of them couldn't give a rat's ass about the actual data gathering.

  • by Shoten (260439) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @06:00PM (#44322307)

    Foreign Policy had a fascinating article last month on how metadata analysis is used in terms of relationships between suspected "evil" people and known "evil" people. (The word "evil" in quotes to signify that for purposes of this topic, the definition of "evil" is unimportant.) The article talks about the challenges of fewer vs. more degrees of separation in link analysis; the new revelation that they go to 3 degrees throws it into even more perspective.

    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/06/17/evil_in_a_haystack_nsa_metadata [foreignpolicy.com]

  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @06:00PM (#44322311) Homepage Journal

    In a house hearing Wednesday the NSA admitted

    What cause do we have to believe them? They've been lying to us about surveillance for at least 8 years, probably much, much longer.

    Oh, right, we're just supposed to take their word for it, because they've been so goddamn trustworthy up to this point, haven't they?

    Fuck these pieces of shit. Disband their organization, and charge every single employee and contractor with high treason. It's the only way to make things right.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      No, they haven't been lying.

      You don't know what treason is.

      • by sjames (1099)

        A lie of omission is still a lie, especially when you take an oath to tell the whole truth (Congressional testimony is under oath).

        Turning the United States (land of the free) into East Germany before the wall fell is a pretty good start on treason.

      • Yes, they specifically been found to be lying to congress [theblaze.com]. That's one of the reasons that Snowden blew that whistle. It became so obvious that they chose someone to be the fall guy.

        Now let's take that sacrificial goat and continue to dismantle the illegal program until they are no longer doing illegal activities.

        And no, he doesn't know what treason is.

  • Only 3 more, and . . . Bacon!
  • by sberge (2725113)
    That's a lot of people. And they'll snoop on anyone who's "50% likely to be a foreigner". Given that more than 50% of Facebook's, Microsoft's and everyone else's users are foreigners, all their users automatically satisfy that criterion without any checks.
  • With the terror watch list having over 700,000 names.....

    With that many people on your watch list, you might want to re-examine how your trying to govern them.

    *Hint: you're doing it wrong.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      with 7 billion people on the planets, that's not a lot of names.

    • by turp182 (1020263)

      At 3 degrees of separation most of the planet is probably included in the analysis.

      And there are certainly more than 700,000 people who would like to harm the US (including mothers of innocents killed via our wars). We just don't know who they are, we can perform surveillance much more effectively at home...

      We need an independent Presidential candidate right now. Seriously, right now, spreading the message of vastly reduced domestic tracking (asking for no tracking isn't realistic). The entrenched powers

  • by SoupGuru (723634) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @06:04PM (#44322349)

    I think someone needs to step up to let the voters know what they can do if they disagree with this stuff. The ACLU and EFF might be good candidates.

    How can we organize our votes to make this shit stop?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Well, if there's D or an R next to a person's name on the ballot, don't fucking vote for them for starters.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      You can't. If you vote for a candidate that promises to be the most transparent administration in history, you get one that imprisons more whistle blowers than all other presidents in history combined. Voting won't change anything, and direct action will only get you labeled a terrorist. There's absolutely nothing that can be done. Democracy and the rule of law is dead in America.

      All we can do is sit around and wait for another Enlightenment, and then refresh the tree of liberty with the blood of patriot

      • All we can do is sit around and wait for another Enlightenment

        booooooring. Who's dancing on the stars tonight? Hand me a Bud.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You can't. If you vote for a candidate that promises to be the most transparent administration in history, you get one that imprisons more whistle blowers than all other presidents in history combined. Voting won't change anything, and direct action will only get you labeled a terrorist. There's absolutely nothing that can be done. Democracy and the rule of law is dead in America.

        All we can do is sit around and wait for another Enlightenment, and then refresh the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

        It's good to see further evidence/proof of something I said a few months ago [dslreports.com], re: Americans having become apathetic beyond all reasonable doubt. Search for the word "apathetic" and read from there. The only ones we have to blame for this are ourselves. It doesn't matter if it's the 1% who control the country/make it corrupt, we're all still to blame for it in indirect and roundabout ways. The sooner we change our belief system -- that is, the belief and reliance on money -- the better off we'll become.

      • by Immerman (2627577)

        So rally your disillusioned friends for the next election and vote straight third-party to send a message of dissatisfaction. Over half of US citizens didn't vote at all in the last election, so the victory threshold was only 25% of eligible voters, and not voting at all sends the message that we don't care and the politicians can do whatever they want. Even if we get some real wing-nuts into congress they'll be from all over the political spectrum, and the only thing they'll have in common is that they a

  • Guilt by Association (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ttucker (2884057) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @06:15PM (#44322431)
    In North Korea, under the, "association system", up to three generations of a persons family can be taken permanently to, "a place to make a good person through reeducation", for that person's crimes.
    • Bastards! Thank god the US limits forced thought crime reeducation camps to just the perpetrator (college campus thought crimes, businesses where people tell a dirty joke).

      Oh sorry. We libertarians have been gaining credence the past few months and I hadda go and say that. Sorry! Sorry sorry

  • by gmuslera (3436) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @06:16PM (#44322439) Homepage Journal
    I.e. if the connection is "read something that a suspect may have posted in a site", we should be all in that list, plus everyone 2 hops away from us.
  • A friend of mine worked on APANA [apana.org.au] with Julian Assange, and even had the honour of having his server hacked by the Great Man, so I guess that puts me inside the three hop limit.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 18, 2013 @06:29PM (#44322551)

    The owners of Slashdot once again resort to playing down the extent of NSA surveillance and abuse. So-called '3-hop' mining searches were used to prevent agents being swamped with far more 'connections' than they could ever think of processing. Actual NSA personnel were free to examine the details of ANY individual connected at any 'distance' to a named target, whether that meant '3-hops' or 30.

    Here's something you sheeple should consider. You happen to be the neighbour of a target, and even though innocent, you have unwittingly learnt things of interest to the intelligence agencies. If the target becomes aware you have been interrogated or co-operated with the authorities, the mission against the target is compromised.

    No problem to Team Obama. If the target is important enough, you will be secretly arrested, subject to 'enhanced' interrogation just in case you aren't quite 'innocent', and then disposed of (as in EXECUTED) so there is zero chance of the fact of your interrogation getting back to the target. You are the cattle, and if putting you down serves the interests of your masters, no-one is going to think twice about doing this.

    Now true, dying this way is as unlikely as a major lottery win, but the point you sheeple should b aware of is that your life has no value whatsoever to those that rule over you. What they have done to millions of civilians in the Middle East, they'll do to you and your family just as easily if they deem it 'useful'.

    Now the NSA track your vehicle movements almost perfectly with under-surface RFID readers (license plate reading cameras are only used to associate an actual vehicle with the fingerprint of the RFID chips embedded in your tires) - now the NSA tracks the locations of each citizen perfectly via their cell phones - now the NSA tracks your network of friends and associates almost perfectly via the social Internet services you use - now the NSA is focusing on plugging the last few holes in their total surveillance grid.

    Google Glass, The Xbox One, and Bill Gates' child database service form a massive three-headed attack by the NSA against traditionally 'difficult' intelligence targets.

    -Google Glass is designed to eliminate the idea of a 'private' conversation, and ensure that most people self-censor most of the time. Self-censorship means expressing views that toe-the-line promoted by authority, ensuring that everyone thinks that everyone else is a loyal supporter of the police-state.
    -Xbox One gets the world's most sophisticated bugging system into the homes of millions of citizens. A bugging system so 'clever' it knows when people are having sex by tracking signature skeletal movements of the people in the same room as the console.
    -Gates' database system that tracks every detail of every child's life in the most intimate detail is the most disturbing NSA project of all. Gates provides high-ranking sex offenders with the best possible intelligence for safely selecting victims. Then there are the pre-crime aspects, and also the ability to search for the most useful sociopaths for recruitment into command and control positions over the sheeple. Not least is the fact that when you control the kids, you control their parents.

    Look, to the question "how bad are things in the USA today?", the answer is "as bad as they could possibly be, with the active intention of having the future very much worse if all the political plans of people like Gates pan out".

    If you don't want to be treated as cattle, you had better learn how to stop behaving as cattle. Rejecting all propaganda emanating from the mainstream media is a very good start. No one in real power has you best interests at heart. They didn't 20,000 years ago. They didn't 4,000 years ago. They didn't 2000 years ago, or 1000, or 500, or 200. Whoever rules considers those that choose to live as sheep as beneath contempt. It isn't right, it isn't decent, but it is how it is.

    You can't fight the NSA at a higher level, but you can fight them in your daily life. Reject all

    • by router (28432)

      Scary that this would have elicited tinfoil hat jokes just six months ago. Now its probably true or on its way to being true. Except for the editorializing. UK was complicit in all of this, bugged everyone they had access to. Its global man, stop looking for scapegoats.

      You shouldn't bother with AC anymore, if they want to know who you are they can find out.

      andy

  • Even the humble home brewer is under scrutiny now.

  • My brother-in-law and sister-in-law think I'm the paranoid guy quivering in the basement of my house because I'm concerned about this crap... They are the typical "I've done nothing wrong, I have nothing to hide. If knowing that I called my gynecologist last week turns them on, then have at it. I have nothing to hide ..." sort of people ... I never know how to respond to their fearless proclamations so I try to change the subject and lately, have been just avoiding contact with them completely... Infuriati

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by shadowofwind (1209890)

      If it got to the point where it objectively, undeniably mattered, like if you got arrested after having a suspicious pattern of Facebook connections for instance, then they'd be a bit more careful with their online activity. But they still wouldn't stand up for anything, and they wouldn't stand up for you.

      A few years ago I got arrested for something I didn't do, and several of my neighbors who knew I was innocent wouldn't help me with an affidavit. The police, prosecutor, and even my own lawyer didn't car

  • by kimvette (919543) on Friday July 19, 2013 @02:46AM (#44324873) Homepage Journal

    They had direct, specific information regarding those two douchebags who bombed the marathon, AND they are surveying ALL of our communications, sexually assaulting us at airports, and they still didn't put 2+2 together to prevent the bombing? We're not even exchanging essential liberty for security; we are exchanging our essential liberties for security theater.

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