Then And Now: What The NSA Said About PRISM vs. What Latest Declassified Document Says

from the note:-they're-not-the-same dept

So, Tim Cushing already discussed the magically declassified FISC opinion, concerning how the NSA violated the 4th Amendment for many years with its searches. There's a lot of information in that and the other documents the Director of National Intelligence is finally disclosing (mostly due to FOIA requests, rather than the administration's professed newfound love of transparency). For example, it shows how, once again, the NSA has been incredibly misleading concerning the various revelations over the past few months. Let's take PRISM, for example, the program under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act that allows the government to access certain internet communications (not metadata, actual communications).

As you may recall, the NSA and its supporters really tried to play down this program as being small and highly targeted:
According to the NSA fact sheet, this program "does not allow the government to target the phone calls or emails of any U.S. citizen or any other U.S. person anywhere in the world, or any person known to the in the United States. It only allows the targeting of communications of foreigners, and even then only when those communications may have foreign intelligence value." The agency further notes that "any information about U.S. persons that may be incidentally acquired" is subject to "minimization procedures."
Targeted communications of foreigners, only when those communications may have foreign intelligence value. Okay. So, that actually makes some sense. We expect the NSA to be, for example, trying to get access to Al Qaeda bosses' emails. But... the reality as shown in the FISC ruling suggests it's not limited, it's barely targeted and those minimization procedures aren't taken very seriously. As you may recall, this is the very same fact sheet that Senator Wyden called out for being near-complete bullshit and which the NSA then removed.

The Obama administration, however, put up a similar defense:
The Government may only use Section 702 to acquire foreign intelligence information, which is specifically, and narrowly, defined in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This requirement applies across the board, regardless of the nationality of the target.
Except, of course, as we've been seeing over and over again, "foreign intelligence information" is not narrowly defined, and it doesn't appear that the NSA is very careful about all of this. From the FISC ruling we learn that this "small" and supposedly "targeted" project is something much much larger:
NSA acquires more than two hundred fifty million Internet communications each year pursuant to Section 702, but the vast majority of these communications are obtained from Internet service providers and are not at issue here..... Indeed, NSA's upstream collection constitutes only approximately 9% of the total Internet communications being acquired by NSA under Section 702.
If you don't follow this closely, it can be a bit difficult to parse out. The "upstream" collection is the stuff we were just talking about concerning snarfing up data directly from telcos. This "non upstream" data that is "obtained from Internet service providers" is PRISM (as noted in a footnote), and is the program that the NSA and the White House kept insisting above are narrow and targeted. Yet, here, they're admitting that via PRISM, they're getting 91% of the internet communications they're collecting -- which is 228 million records. Collected from tech companies via PRISM.

That's not targeted. Those 228 million communications are not "only when those communications may have foreign intelligence value." And I have difficulty seeing how anyone can call it "incidental" given the size. It appears to be an absolutely massive program that, once again, the NSA, the administration and their supporters have continued to misrepresent.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Ninja (profile), Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 5:08am

    That's not targeted. Those 228 million communications are not "only when those communications may have foreign intelligence value."

    Semantics. If you consider they are targeting all communications flowing then it's reasonably targeted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    out_of_the_blue, Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 7:02am

    What? Spooks LIE? -- Hey, maybe "commercial" ones do too!

    "Every company involved denied the most sensational assertion in the Prism documents: that the NSA pulled data "directly from the servers" of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL and more.

    Technology experts and a former government official say that phrasing, taken from a PowerPoint slide describing the program, was likely meant to differentiate Prism's neatly organized, company-provided data from the unstructured information snatched out of the Internet's major pipelines."

    Emphasis added. By the way, note that's from June 15 this year.

    The real story is still the shell corporations that are only front-ends for the NSA.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 7:08am

    Targetted versus collected

    Given the double speak that NSA seem to use, data in not targeted until it is searched for. Therefore their targeting is narrow, but they collect as much data as then can in case they need to target it latter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 8:43am

    The numbers do not add up ...

    If they are pulling all email data or meta data the numbers just do not add up. There are over 144 billion emails sent worldwide everyday, 89% are spam. If you remove the spam that is still around 15 billion emails. Break out US from that number and you are around (off on the way low side) 1 billion a day.

    The numbers quoted say between meta data, collected emails, etc seem to not jive.

    Anyone have any ideas why?

    e-mail iltrivia/f/emails_per_day.htm

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Headbhang, Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 8:55am


    Didn't Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple et al. say they only coughed up their data after "carefully reviewing" or "scrutinizing" any requests. Are they really "carefully reviewing" 228 million records now?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Edmundo Carmona, Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 10:16am

    I think they made a typo with the name

    The NSA made a typo when naming PRISM. I think they meant PRISN.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 12:21pm

    Terrorists are everywhere!

    Is it possible they intercepted and halted two hundred fifty million terrorist attacks?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 23rd, 2013 @ 4:53am

    Re: What? Spooks LIE? -- Hey, maybe "commercial" ones do too!

    No, the real story is the NSA forcing big tech companies to comply with their bullshit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 23rd, 2013 @ 4:54am

    Re: Terrorists are everywhere!

    Yes, but unfortunately the details are classified.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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