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NSA Claims It Would Violate Americans' Privacy To Say How Many of Us It Spied On 221

colinneagle writes "Would you believe the Inspector General from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said it would violate the privacy of Americans for the IG office to tell us how many people in the United States had their privacy violated via the NSA warrantless wiretap powers which were granted under the FISA Amendment Act of 2008? The Act is up for a five-year extension, but Senator Ron Wyden said he'd block FAA renewal until Congress received an answer from the NSA about how many 'people in the United States have their communications reviewed by the government' under FAA powers."
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NSA Claims It Would Violate Americans' Privacy To Say How Many of Us It Spied On

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  • Obvious solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @03:05PM (#40374015)

    Violate their privacy, leak their documents.

    • by jhoegl ( 638955 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @03:42PM (#40374681)
      No no no... because privacy is between you and your government.
    • by houstonbofh ( 602064 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @03:42PM (#40374683)
      This is kinda like people how do not want to sell something because they will lose money. The thing is, they have already lost the money. They are just Realising the Loss when they sell it. []

      So, they do not want us to Realise the Loss of our privacy. (Yes, you can read a lot into that, and you should.)
      • Very well put.
      • by Mephistophocles ( 930357 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @05:47PM (#40377019) Homepage
        No it isn't, it's like a government who has so much contempt for you, and thinks you're so stupid that you'll actually accept a double-speak reply that base and condescending as remotely acceptable.
        • It's more like a government that lacks enough transparency that the common slashdotter assumes the government has the time and energy to monitor its 300 million citizens' private communications. If there were more transparency, you'd quickly realize it isn't nearly as insidious as you think, based on pure logistics.

          You aren't as interesting as you think, and "the government" doesn't have enough manpower to monitor even a fraction of the billions of communications that go on daily.

          Once the tinfoil hat group

          • Let's see. Average 20 minutes/day * 300M people / 2 is about 2 M days/day. So you need to process 2 M calls at a time to keep up. Seems like it would take a moderate sized supercomputer to process 2M audio signals simultaneously looking for keywords. 100 Teraflops would be plenty,

            • And therein lies the problem. You still need human beings to pick through and analyze what those 100 teraflops have tagged. And as someone who did exactly that for 20 years, I can tell you that the government would have to increase staffing by 1,000,000 just to be able to do 1/1000th of what you are suggesting. The fact is, not only are less than 99% of calls ever made even recored, 95% of those are never reviewed because there aren't enough analysts, and computers aren't sophisticated enough to understan

              • interesting.

                world population doubling time = ~61 years. (source = wikipedia)

                moore's law says processing power doubling time is 1.5 years.

                we can't do it now, but the infrastructure can be built and simple math says it will be possible given enough time, and in reasonably short order, too.

                of course, banality becomes a problem. i wouldn't even want to review 20 mins of other people's conversation in a day. even ones tagged with saucy keywords would prove incredibly boring.

                but with truth being stranger than f

              • Re:Obvious solution (Score:4, Informative)

                by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @12:29AM (#40380911) Homepage

                How about if you are targeting specific people and their families for illicit references to be used in blackmail and extortion to ensure you get your political way. So searches to references to drug terms, prostitution, bribery, even comments that reflect their true beliefs rather than the masquerade. So who are the NSA protecting what secrets are they keeping secret because they can use them to their advantage, not only to keep say the CIA and NSA in control but when those people leave, to enrich them as private contractors.

                This is a case of one thing leading to another. How many peoples privacy did they invade ie not all, then how where those people selected, what pattern was used for the targeted invasion of privacy. What information was gathered and who had access to that information and what information was destroyed including records of who had access to that information.

                Should there not be an audit to substantiate that it all wasn't a huge blackmail and extortion intelligence gathering campaign.

              • 95% of those are never reviewed because there aren't enough analysts, and computers aren't sophisticated enough to understand human language to any level of usable intelligence. Plus, voice recognition software sucks in English, let alone the dialects used by peasants in Afghanistan and Arabic speaking countries. Native speakers can't even get that stuff right, so your imaginary super computer has no chance.

                Imaginary? In 10-15 years, 20 tops, we will have voice recognition software this powerful. What then? Your "solution" is just to bury your head in the sand, betting against technological advancements that will surely come?

    • It's everyone, get it or they would have a number.

  • by Pirulo ( 621010 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @03:07PM (#40374031)
    it's around 310 million
  • All of them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @03:10PM (#40374093)

    This is classical 1984 stuff here. Newspeak excellence.

    War is peace,
    freedom is slavery,
    Violation of privacy is protection of privacy.

  • Wyden (Score:5, Insightful)

    by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @03:11PM (#40374113) Journal

    Ron Wyden is my senator, and although we agree on very little, today he is my hero.

    • He is also my Senator, and I agree with you.
    • I dont care for him either, and I'm a liberal.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Ron Wyden is my senator, too. We agree on very much, and today he's even more my hero than usual.

  • To mention a logical extension to an other story of today...

    Non the less pretty crass.

  • more likely the number, perhaps too numerous to count if one includes automated total voice stream processing and email word checks, violates our sanity and patience. Carl Sagan - biillllions and bilions. Or is it trillions, NSA?
  • It will violate the CIA's privacy when we know that they spy on everyone.

  • We obviously missed giving you your designated,, "contribution". We'll fix that right away. Or we'll disappear your family. Sincerely, Your friends at the NSA
  • It is funny, but.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by stanlyb ( 1839382 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @03:19PM (#40374265)
    BUT, the most funny thing is that they are actually right. LOL, USA, a country of absurd and funny truths. And the reason they are right is that once they say how many Americans are spied upon, the uproar will be so big that everybody would try to know who is actually spied, which will cause disclosing their names, and thus violating their right to stay anonymous......LOL, better ignorant and fracked, than (you guess what).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @03:20PM (#40374275)

    Seriously? If I say 200 or 2000 people had been investigated under warrantless wiretap powers, how exactly does that violate anybody's privacy?

    Fine, if they can't give us an exact count, how about an order of magnitude? Or would that also violate privacy and/or security?

    Come on. It's got to be between 1 person and 310 million or so. At least narrow it down a little.

    • by The Grim Reefer ( 1162755 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @03:33PM (#40374551)

      Seriously? If I say 200 or 2000 people had been investigated under warrantless wiretap powers, how exactly does that violate anybody's privacy?

      Fine, if they can't give us an exact count, how about an order of magnitude? Or would that also violate privacy and/or security?

      Come on. It's got to be between 1 person and 310 million or so. At least narrow it down a little.

      Questions are a burden to others; answers a prison for oneself.

    • by Daetrin ( 576516 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @04:05PM (#40375101)

      Come on. It's got to be between 1 person and 310 million or so. At least narrow it down a little.

      Are you sure about that? I was just catching up with the Colbert Report on my DVR, and apparently in New York they've frisked more young black males under the "stop and frisk" policy than are actually living in the city. Maybe the NSA has multiple investigations/wire taps going on for each person, maybe they're investigating people who are just visiting the country (not sure if that's legal, but it's not like that would stop them anyways.)

  • by Nyder ( 754090 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @03:21PM (#40374293) Journal

    Here at the NSA, we will NOT violate your privacy by telling you how many Americans privacy we have already violated.

    Thank you, have a good day.

    Here at the Catholic Church, we will NOT violate privacy by telling you which Priests violate children.

    Thank you and god loves you, mainly little boys.

  • everyone but.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @03:24PM (#40374373) Homepage

    I'm guessing that the answer is "everyone except the following....." and that list would immediately put those few dozen people under a spotlight, destroying their privacy.

    • by Phrogman ( 80473 )

      But it would also give us a good list of the members of the 1% who own the world, at the same time.

      • by unrtst ( 777550 )

        They monitor their own (ex. family, friends, etc) more closely than most. The 1% are definitely monitored. One of the motivations for said monitoring is to catch anything that could set off alarms elsewhere before anyone else catches it so they can provide protection if needed. And besides, it's fun to keep tabs on people you know.

        In fact, that may be the privacy they're worried about breaking. Just a guess, but what if those monitored are mostly NOT made up of the scum of the earth, but are actually a list

      • ...thus destroying the privacy of the majority of citizens* in the US

        *people who actually have a say in how the country is run.

    • If I answer this, I will be investigated by the Justice department. Sad, huh?
  • Okay, I remember reading (probably on Wired) that the NSA has an unusual definition of "intercept" when it came to domestic telephone calls...  An "intercept" for them was going back and analyzing their recordings, not the actual "making" of the recording.

    If, for instance, I merely record raw packet data on the network and do not interpret it... then I've "captured the firehose", but I don't know what I've got until I analyze it.

    If I have the budget to "capture the firehose" for the entire US telephone network, but I only need to analyze 10-20K "intercepts" per year, then I probably wouldn't have the equipment or staff to evaluate the details of all the data I have.

    If that's the situation, then I'd probably respond similarly to Wyden's request.  In order to answer his questions I'd have to analyze ALL the data I have, which I don't have the resources or budget to do...  and even if I did, it'd expose the details of all comunications on the network... which would be an invasion of privacy.

    • by crazyjj ( 2598719 ) * on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @03:49PM (#40374821)

      An "intercept" for them was going back and analyzing their recordings, not the actual "making" of the recording.

      Combine that with a retroactive warrants and filtering software and it's basically a license to spy on everyone. I can make the recordings on everyone, filter them for keywords, and then read them--and, if I find something, I can get a retroactive warrant saying it was okay for me to listen to it.

    • And, also, please realize that organizations like the NSA aren't free to discuss their techniques in a public forum... so they can't publicly tell Sen. Wyden why they don't have the capability to answer his questions.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You make me wish I had an account so I could mod you up. The privacy data the NSA has is a Schrödinger's cat. In order to know who's privacy they've "violated" they would actually have to analyze the data, thus actually violating it.

    • by RogueLeaderX ( 845092 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @03:56PM (#40374951)

      While this is a nice dodge there is one question they can still answer:

      How many people have they "intercepted." No going back to analyze all captured data, just let us know how many people were "actively" voilated instead of just "passively" recorded.

    • by Memophage ( 88273 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @04:17PM (#40375313)

      That sounds frighteningly accurate.
      From a different Wired article: []

      NSA can intercept millions of domestic communications and store them in a data center like Bluffdale and still be able to say it has not “intercepted” any domestic communications. This is because of its definition of the word. “Intercept,” in NSA’s lexicon, only takes place when the communications are “processed” “into an intelligible form intended for human inspection,” not as they pass through NSA listening posts and transferred to data warehouses.

      So, the short, accurate answer to Wyden's question would be "We're spying on everyone. Literally. It would take too much work to even calculate the number of people we're spying on. Go away."

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      You might be technically accurate but the most approximately correct answer would be "everyone".

  • Shut 'em down! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Here's an idea: the NSA coughs up _exactly_ what Congress wants, or Congress shuts them down. Zero. Gone. All employees immediately lose their clearance and get to look for other work.

    If I refused to tell my boss something, he'd fire me.

  • If they want to hide the number of people they have wiretapped/surveilled, that number, in all likelihood, is very large. Could be a few hundred thousand. Could be a few million. Could be a few tens of millions. It could also be "everybody living within the borders of the United States, every day", if they have the digital infrastructure to handle that kind of workload in realtime. ---------- Besides, precisely what would the number tell you? The number of people surveilled by human operators? Or the number
  • by crazyjj ( 2598719 ) * on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @03:43PM (#40374707)

    Can you imagine Google having the balls to tell the FBI "Sorry, can't hand over anymore info. That would violate our customers' privacy."?

    No, I can't either.

  • by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @04:05PM (#40375093)
    If you read the letter from the IG, all he says is that he can't answer the question in an *unclassified* letter. He then goes on to point the senators to classified reports that contain most of what they're looking for; basically that sometimes they collect information and learn afterwards that the person wasn't where they thought (inside the US, so the data shouldn't have been collected). Of course if you choose not to believe anything he says then there's no reason to RTFA anyway.
  • And to be able to get an even moderately accurate count (within an order of magnitude), I expect they would have to revisit much of the material that they have collected, not all of which may have led them to approach or convict a person who was actually guilty of anything. Revisiting all that material would be a violation of those people's privacy. Granted, these people's privacy was already violated, but that doesn't justify doing it over again just to answer a question about how many people they've do

  • by EnergyScholar ( 801915 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @04:33PM (#40375589)

    I agree with the poster above. NSA probably spies on all electronic traffic by everyone on Earth, which includes all residents of North America. I'd like to take this occasion to remind people about ECHELON [], the 'secret' signals intelligence gathering system whose existence was leaked to the public in 1996 by some very brave Aussies. This revelation included the detail that, since 'Five Eyes' (AUS CAN NZ UK US) [] foreign intelligence agencies were forbidden by charter from spying on their own citizens, they had worked out an arrangement to spy on each others' citizens and then swap data!

    I also wish to take this opportunity to suggest to security-minded readers that NSA et al have advanced cryptanalysis tools at their disposal. While your first reaction might be "Duh!", please bear with me. In this message I actually disclose new non-public, non-official, hard-but-not-impossible-to-verify information. Specifically, I'd like to blow the whistle on the fact that they have probably had a working Quantum Computer system capable of cracking Public Key Cryptography since about 1996. Thus, even your encrypted data has been seen by NSA computers although, of course, that decrypted data set must be partitioned separately and used with extreme care, so as not to reveal its existence.

    Science-oriented readers might wonder just what sort of QC could have been built a full 18 years ago, when current technology is just nearing the point of developing a useful QC. The answer is that they generated a 'teleportation/entanglement-based winner-take-all style recurrent topological quantum neural network', then trained it to emulate a Quantum Turing Machine that could run Shor's Algorithm. It exists in the physical form of a complex system composed of 'anyons' [] interacting with each other within a 'two dimensional electron gas' []. Anyons can be generated by moving precision arrays of powerful electromagnets very near the surface of the 2DEG, like creating whirlpools in the bathtub with your hand. I strongly suspect the scientists involved discovered a rule, analogous to Rule 110 [], that operates directly on the physical system of anyons within a 2DEG. For the detailed scientific underpinnings I suggest you study the collected works of Stuart Kauffman [], Steven Wolfram [], David Deutsch [], and Robert Laughlin []. You have no reason to trust what I'm saying, and disinformation is entirely too common, but I want readers to understand that it is possible for a sufficiently determined and intelligent person to verify that what I just said is probably true, although certainly NOT just by Googling for it :-)

    Readers should note that the new technology I describe is not limited to running Shor's algorithm and,in fact, is a powerful new general technology with various other uses. None of which matter much until this whole thing is declassified, so that civilian scientists will be able to study and publish on the topic. The NSA et al is keeping it secret to prevent everyone from knowing that PKI is no longer secure. IMHO this is insufficient reason to keep secret important new scientific knowledge.

    Finally, lest someone complain that I might be harming National Security by making the above disclosure, I'd like to point out that China and Russia already have working QCs of their own that function on similar principles. This is an open secret within the Intelligence Community. Thus, I am disclosing new information to Slashdot readers and to the general public whom they might tell about it, but I am NOT telling international sp

  • About 310 million Americans after 9/11, did, well, nothing but mind their own business. Who ever the pin head in charge was, burned a hole lot of tax payer dollars on something the FBI has a charter and protocol to do the same thing with.

    So,what could possible go wrong at the NSA? And whose personal wet dream was this?
  • I would tell the Inspector General what he is full of, but that would be insulting.

  • I routed all communications through a closet at AT&T and only stored the source and destination IPs of all internet traffic, then tracked the source IP back to the domestic ISP's accounts, so that I can see every IP you spoke to, then did DNS lookups on them and used that to establish a dossier on each person's interests?

    Because that would be highly valuable information and would not require deep packet inspection. Depending on the sites you visit, it could indicate your lifestyle and interests, such as

  • I wonder if there are other uses for this technique:

    "You were spotted leaving the scene of the crime! What have you stolen and hidden away, thief!?"

    "I am unable to tell you or anybody else that information, officer, because it would violate the victims' privacy. I mean, what if I stole 14 dildos? Sick! But see? Then you'll know it's sick, and someone might be embarrassed about all those dildos I may or may not have taken from an alleged panty drawer. Of course, it's natural to assume I stole somew
  • It won't tell anyone whether it spied on me. They really do care. I'm touched.

    PRIVACY: The psychological discomfort associated with awareness of personal & possibly embarassing information becoming known to others. Respect for privacy thus defined as not making concerned parties aware of said knowledge.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun