The Washington Post reported last week:
Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from U.S. digital networks, according to a four-month investigation by The Washington Post.
Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.
Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents.
Many … files, described as useless by the analysts but nonetheless retained, have a startlingly intimate, even voyeuristic quality. They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes. The daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless.
A composite image of two of the more than 5,000 private photos among data collected by the National Security Agency from online accounts and network links in the United States. The images were included in a large cache of NSA intercepts provided by former agency contractor Edward Snowden. (Images obtained by The Washington Post)
The Post continues:
Among the latter are medical records sent from one family member to another,résumés from job hunters and academic transcripts of schoolchildren. In one photo, a young girl in religious dress beams at a camera outside a mosque.
Scores of pictures show infants and toddlers in bathtubs, on swings, sprawled on their backs and kissed by their mothers. In some photos, men show off their physiques. In others, women model lingerie, leaning suggestively into a webcam or striking risque poses in shorts and bikini tops.
“None of the hits that were received were relevant,” two Navy cryptologic technicians write in one of many summaries of nonproductive surveillance. “No additional information,” writes a civilian analyst.
Boing Boing notes:
The collateral targets — who far outnumber [actual targets] — have intimate, totally irrelevant information about their lives collected and retained by the spies, where it is routinely accessed by spies, analysts, and private-sector contractors.
Almost everything in the NSA cache is haystack, in other words, with just a few needles. And the hay is deliberately collected and retained, even though it consists of things like love notes, baby pictures, medical records, and other intimate data belonging to people who are under no suspicion at all.
So why does the NSA retain these intimate – but wholly irrelevant – details and images of innocent Americans? In other words, even if they were – as the NSA claims – accidentally collected, why on earth is the NSA keeping them?
Washington Post reporters asked an NSA official why the information was retained even though it was “useless”.
According to one of the co-authors of the Washington Post story – Ashkan Soltani – the NSA’s responsewas that it might become “of interest” at some time in the future (starting at 50:50):
It’s very difficult to ascertain the intelligence value of a particular collection, either a photo or a communication.
It’s very hard to be absolutely sure that it’s not going to be of interest.
This is not an isolated incident. For example, US and UK intelligence services have also gathered millions of webcam images … many nude. And top experts say the NSA is collecting the CONTENT of all of our phone calls and emails.
Indeed, the NSA itself admitted in writing that its “collection posture” is:
“Collect it All,” “Process it All,” “Exploit it All,” “Partner it All,” “Sniff it All” and, ultimately, “Know it All.”
Indeed, for 5,000 years straight, mass surveillance on one’s own people has always aimed at crushing dissent. Former top-level NSA officials say that this is “J. Edgar Hoover on super steroids“, and that we’ve turned into Stasi Germany or the Soviet Union. They say we’ve turned into a police state.
What J. Edgar Hoover, the Stasis and the Soviets did was collect information on people, and then use it todiscredit, harass or blackmail those they decide they don’t like … including the nation’s most powerfulpoliticians and military leaders.
As a high-level NSA whistleblower told Washington’s Blog:
“Collect it all, know it all” [the NSA’s model] is actually the Stasi model. It’s not just know everything; we have to be able to keep everything that we want to know, even if we don’t know it yet.
It’s a collect it all first mentality … and then we’ll get to know it all. I call it “feeding the beast”.
I keep shuddering because I’m intimately familiar with the East German surveillance state mentality.