Speed Reads

Casting a wide net

90 percent of NSA intercepts hit 'ordinary' people, not intended targets

The National Security Agency swept up a shocking number of communications from innocent bystanders that dwarfed the intel collected on intended targets, according to a new Washington Post report. Citing documents leaked by Edward Snowden that detailed intercepts between 2009 and 2012, the Post concluded that 90 percent of all accounts swept up belonged to "ordinary" Internet users, many of whom were American citizens; just 10 percent of the cached accounts belonged to people targeted for surveillance.

Moreover, a "strikingly high proportion" contained sensitive information clearly marking the accounts as belonging to Americans.

Many other 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. […] At the 9-to-1 ratio of incidental collection in Snowden’s sample, the office’s figure would correspond to nearly 900,000 accounts, targeted or not, under surveillance. [The Washington Post]

Read the entire report here.