The NSA Reveals That It Does 20 Million Database Queries Per Month

from the that's-a-lot dept

As we noted earlier today, the NSA’s two key “defenses” of the thousands of abuses and violations of the law that recently came out thanks to a leaked document are that there wasn’t “intent” to abuse the system (we had no idea that made illegal things legal…) and, second, that it was such a small percentage of the activity that it’s really no big deal. Glenn Greenwald quickly noted that the NSA is actually saying “we collect billion of emails and calls every day, so what’s a few thousand privacy violations?” hoping that everyone focuses on the second half of the sentence. But the key point is actually the first half of that sentence. In fact, as we noted in that last post, the NSA’s top compliance guy actually revealed a startling fact in his attempt to push the meaningless “ratio” of violations to queries:

The official, John DeLong, the N.S.A. director of compliance, said that the number of mistakes by the agency was extremely low compared with its overall activities. The report showed about 100 errors by analysts in making queries of databases of already-collected communications data; by comparison, he said, the agency performs about 20 million such queries each month.

Again, the ratio is a meaningless number. You’re not declared innocent of murder because you didn’t happen to murder someone every other day of your life. But, perhaps more important in this is the revelation of the 20 million queries every single month. Or, approximately 600,000 queries every day. How about 25,000 queries every hour? Or 417 queries every minute? Seven queries every single second. Holy crap, that’s a lot of queries.

Remember, too, that the NSA has insisted that it doesn’t datamine its data collection, which is clearly hogwash. That many queries means they’re trolling through that database all the time. Remember how the NSA was trying to play down how often it did queries by saying that only 300 phone numbers had been used to “initiate” a query? Yeah, well, once again, it would appear that the NSA was not being fully forthcoming about these sorts of things. Shocking, I know, but I’d imagine they’d claim it was the “least untruthful” answer they could come up with after having a good week or so to answer the question.

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Comments on “The NSA Reveals That It Does 20 Million Database Queries Per Month”

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41 Comments
Zakida Paul (profile) says:

Re: How many of those use "direct access" to Google's servers?

“Which is worse: NSA or the collaborating corporations?”

Two sides of the same coin. The NSA uses the private corporations to harvest data on the population.

Corporate spying alone is way down the list because people have the choice as to whether or not they want to use that company’s services.

I don’t know why I bothered because you will inevitably ignore what I said and continue with your anti corporation rants.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Corporate money out of politics

Being anti-corporate is not exactly irrational. Partially misdirected blame but even if a person is completely “anti-corporation”, is it really that bad of an ideology ?

OBLIGATION of business to make profit disregarding any societal cost.
Without regulation and laws then growing people to be slaves would be legitimate pro-corporation ideology.
It’s the laws and regulations that need to be the focus.

By law, google are not allowed to grow slaves.
By law, google are required to hand over all access to NSA.
Who is funding the American Laws ?
Corporations.

So being anti-corporation is actually legitimate.
Being anti corporate funding of politics is smarter.

Until the money is out of politics, there will be a valid reason for people to be anti-corporatist.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: How many of those use "direct access" to Google's servers?

You forgot the companies of the industrial military complex.

Corporations ——–> $$$$$$$$ ———> Government Officials

Government Officials ——–> Beneficial Laws ———> Corporations

Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple etc… are pretty much victims and are just complying with these new “Laws”.
It’s the Corporations that are developing/supplying Tech and services for the NSA that are the ones making the laws via bribery.

RD says:

Re: How many of those use "direct access" to Google's servers?

“Which is worse: NSA or the collaborating corporations?”

Fucking idiot. The fact that you even have to ask that shows your bias and insane focus on Google to the exclusion of all else.

The NSA is FAR worse than any corporate collaborator, because the NSA has the full weight of the government and law behind it.

A corporation can’t arrest you or put a gun to your head or order you murdered via drone strike.

RyanNerd (profile) says:

Holy Crap that's quite a bit of data mining

I worked for a health insurance company. And on occasion we would have to query the raw data for a patient’s prescription history. We only did this when an issue came up or we were performing an audit. Even then there were strict guidelines for how we were to perform a search. This was to protect the privacy of everyone.
For example: If we had a first and last name but no social security number. We were forbidden from doing a search unless we also had their zip code of residence. The searches were to be exact and targeted as possible; which if you care about privacy is how things should be.
This broad untargeted data-mining by the NSA is astounding. Makes me sick.

Michael (profile) says:

Not to nit pick, but the number of queries does not necessarily tell you much. Many people are thinking “select * from phonecalls where country <> ‘US'”, but that’s not how all databases work.

Some data analytics systems will run thousands of queries to satisfy a single request.

They certainly should not be using the total volume of queries to try to minimize the number of abuses, but at this point, they are simply throwing out numbers that are meaningless without context.

We should all be focused on the simple number of times they have abused their power or broken the law. Trust me, the number of times we were not speeding does not matter one bit when it comes to defending the time the radar gun got us.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This is a matter of semantics. Are they using queries in the technical sense (and then you would be right while not making their abuse any better) or in the common sense of the word where they do search 20 million times (thus the number of technical queries is way higher) which makes their abuse sound even worse… Now, which definition is the NSA playing by?

Anonymous Coward says:

Why break the local laws? Should just share.

What I don’t understand is why all the government allies don’t just work together and save themselves some huge embarrassment and political ire. If I had put this together I would have our spies force US companies to hand over our info to the UK spies. The UK spies have their companies giving us their info. We could then both LEGALLY spy on the others’ citizens and share all their findings back with the respective governments legally. Seems so simple.

Everything I needed to know I learned in kindergarten.

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