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Article posted Aug 20 2013, 12:12 PM Category: Big Brother/Orwellian Source: Techdirt Print

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

by Mike Masnick

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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