The US National Security Agency (NSA) claims its agents only saw 0.00004 percent of the world's web traffic while conducting their PRISM missions.
The agency made the claim in a report entitled The National Security Agency: Missions, Authorities, Oversight and Partnerships, and said: "According to figures published by a major tech provider, the internet carries 1,826 Petabytes of information per day. In its foreign intelligence mission, NSA touches about 1.6 percent of that. However, of the 1.6 percent of data, only 0.025 percent is actually selected for review.
"The effect is that NSA analysts look at 0.00004 percent of the world's traffic in conducting their mission – that's less than one part in a million. Put another way, if a standard basketball court represented the global communications environment, NSA's total collection would be represented by an area smaller than a dime on that basketball court."
The NSA's claims follows numerous reports that it siphoned vast amounts of data from tech companies, such as Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Twitter and Facebook as part of its PRISM cyber intelligence program. The report moved to downplay concerns about what data it collected, promising that safeguards put in place by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) meant the analysts could not access non-relevant data from businesses.
"Under NSA's Business Records FISA program (or BR FISA), first approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) in 2006 and subsequently re-authorised during two different administrations, four different Congresses, and by 14 federal judges, specified that US telecommunications providers are compelled by court order to provide the NSA with information about telephone calls to, from, or within the US," read the report.
"The information is known as metadata, and consists of information such as the called and calling telephone numbers and the date, time, and duration of the call, but no user identification, content, or cell site locational data. The purpose of this particular collection is to identify the US nexus of a foreign terrorist threat to the homeland. The Government cannot conduct substantive queries of the bulk records for any purpose other than counterterrorism."
The document alleged that PRISM is an essential tool in the government's ongoing War on Terror, claiming that the 9/11 attacks proved the need for the advanced intelligence-gathering program.
"After the al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the 9/11 Commission found that the US Government had failed to identify and connect the many dots of information that would have uncovered the planning and preparation for those attacks. We now know that 9/11 hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar, who was on board American Airlines flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon, resided in California for the first six months of 2000," read the report.
"While NSA had intercepted some of Mihdhar's conversations with persons in an al-Qaeda safe house in Yemen during that period, NSA did not have the US phone number or any indication that the phone Mihdhar was using was located in San Diego. NSA did not have the tools or the database to search to identify these connections and share them with the FBI. Several programs were developed to address the US Government's need to connect the dots of information available to the intelligence community and to strengthen the co-ordination between foreign intelligence and domestic law enforcement agencies."
Despite the NSA's report, numerous businesses have continued to express concerns regarding the PRISM program. Most recently Lavabit and Silent Circle have discontinued their respective secure email services, hoping to pre-empt future snooping requests from the NSA.
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