NSA drowning in overcollected data, can't do its job properly

NSA whistleblower William Binney warns that the agency collects so much useless information that it can't process it effectively. The Snowden leaks about the MUSCULAR surveillance program (tapping the fiber links connecting up the data-centers used by Internet giants like Google and Yahoo) corroborate Binney's view: in 2013, NSA analysts asked to be allowed to collect less data through MUSCULAR, because the "relatively small intelligence value it contains does not justify the sheer volume of collection."

"What they are doing is making themselves dysfunctional by taking all this data," Mr. Binney said at a privacy conference here. The agency is drowning in useless data, which harms its ability to conduct legitimate surveillance, claims Mr. Binney, who rose to the civilian equivalent of a general during more than 30 years at the NSA before retiring in 2001. Analysts are swamped with so much information that they can't do their jobs effectively, and the enormous stockpile is an irresistible temptation for misuse...

In a statement through his lawyer, Mr. Snowden says: "When your working process every morning starts with poking around a haystack of seven billion innocent lives, you're going to miss things." He adds: "We're blinding people with data we don't need."

NSA Struggles to Make Sense of Flood of Surveillance Data [Julia Angwin/WSJ]

(via /.)

(Image: Battersea Riverside Sign, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from wetwebwork's photostream)

Notable Replies

  1. NOW is the time to break out those old ECHELON lists of trigger words and SPAM them everywhere to overload the functional part of the NSA and drown them in false postives.

    Seriously, fuck the NSA.

  2. The nature of much of the NSA's signals intelligence work -- outside of codebreaking -- is attempting to work with huge collections of raw data. That means a lot of what they're going to be doing is collecting a metric shitload of information, trying extraction algorithms against them, finding out that they haven't yet got anything useful, and repeating the process.

    And I'd bet they have the same problem many collectors and museums do -- having gone to the trouble of acquiring something, it's very hard to declare that it's obsolete and uninteresting and that you really can deacquisition it without being accused of failing your mission.

    In other words: This sounds like exactly what I would expect business-as-usual to be at the NSA. I really don't find it surprising.

  3. I'm curious what tangible thing in the past can they point to and say, look, this happened or was prevented because we collected it. Anything in the last 3 years? 5? 10? 15 or 20?

  4. of course they cant process it. Morons.

  5. Individuals refusing to chuck things out 'in case they come in useful some day', regardless of what they're collecting, or whether or not it affects somebody else's privacy.

    Don't we call them hoarders?

    Perhaps they need professional help. Perhaps they need somebody to go into their house and gently force them to get rid of a boatload of stuff they really don't need. It could be made into a TV series. I think there are many other organisations which suffer the same pathology.

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