NSA hunger demands 29 petabytes of data a day

NSA hunger demands 29 petabytes of data a day

Summary: The intelligence agency claims it can respect both national security and civil liberties.


As the National Security Agency (NSA) spying furore rumbles on, the agency has claimed to be looking at only 0.00004 percent of the world's total internet traffic.

In a document (PDF) on the nsa.gov website, the agency said that the internet carries 1,826 Petabytes of information per day, and that its activity "touches" 1.6 percent of that data — approximately 29 petabytes, or 29 million gigabytes, of data each day. Of that number, the agency says 0.025 percent is selected for review.

"The net effect is that NSA analysts look at 0.00004 percent of the world's traffic in conducing their mission — that's less than one part in a million," says the document. "Put another way, if a standard basketball court represented the global communications environment, NSA's collection would be represented by an area smaller than a dime on that basketball court."

Throughout the document, the agency defended its legal basis, and dismissed claims that it was conducting dragnet-style operations, except for instances that fall under the umbrella of counter-terrorism and involve telephone metadata.

Under its Business Records FISA (BR FISA) program, the agency is able to gain access to telephone metadata from US telcos that includes "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 document said. "The government cannot conduct substantive queries of the bulk records for any purpose other than counter-terrorism."

The agency pointed to the effectiveness of the program in preventing terrorist operations.

"Of the 54 terrorism events recently discussed in public, 13 of them had a homeland nexus, and in 12 of those cases, BR FISA played a role.

"Every search into the BR FISA database is auditable, and all three branches of our government exercise oversight over NSA's use of this authority."

The NSA pointed out that the BR FISA program began in 2006, and has been reauthorised by two different presidential administrations, four congresses, and 14 federal judges.

Despite such programs, the NSA claimed that it is able to conduct itself in a manner that respects civil liberties while maintaining national security.

"We do not need to sacrifice civil liberties for the sake of national security; both are integral to who we are as Americans."

The US agency said it partners with 30 different nations, and is prohibited from using its partner agencies to do work that the NSA itself would find illegal.

"These partnerships are an important part of the US and allied defence against terrorists, cyberthreat actors, and others who threaten our individual and collective security.

"Both parties to these relationships benefit."

The document was created to "address inaccuracies that have appeared in the media" and provide a level of transparency for the agency without endangering sources, methods, or national security.

Topics: Privacy, Government US, Security


Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining CBS as a programmer. After a Canadian sojourn, he returned in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia, and is now the Australian Editor of ZDNet.

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  • 0.00004%

    Funny fact is that only 0.00004 percent of the my taffic is used for interceptible communication. The rest of the data is mostly used for remote desktop, web browsing, music, and cat videos.
  • Media figures

    Can't believe everything came from the media, I guess this figures should be multiplied by 2
  • Idiots Wanted

    1. Only 1,6 percent of meaningless traffic, the rest being technical traffic. Not bad! We are still alive.
    2. The claim of NSA should be extended to the marine too. Sort of this: We use only small small strait for passing, which is 0,000...00 percent of the World Ocean. Let us pass undetected, ple-e-e-ease...
    • ERR.CORR.

  • and you believe them?

    Couple years ago they said they were collecting no data.

    Last year they said they were collecting no data on US citizens.

    Today they acknowledge (only because Snowden release documents indicating the information is collected) that they only collect meta data.

    Next year they will tell you to quit talking bad about your ever omniscient government or your IRS records will be released to the world.

    Do you really believe the government when they have already lied to you over and over again? Of course we can't talk about because it all is alleged tracking and there are court orders silencing all communications.

    They want your data, they collect your data, that way if they even suspect you might be talking, emailing, or communicating in any way to someone about something they don't like, they can review it in detail.

    Until there is a true oversight and I don't mean a rubber stamp court, and truthful communications - why would you ever believe the Government? (And this goes for MOST governments because you KNOW the USA isn't the only one collecting and tracking everything they can about their prisoners -- I mean citizens)
    Silent Observer
  • From the original NSA whistleblower


    Great short interview.
  • And it's....

    only 0.00004% effective for catching the bad guys....instead they will have years worth of information on us. I don't know who is worse.....Terrorists or the US Government !

    Just how much is this costing us ? We are close to $17 trillion in debt. This is a worthless process and there are better ways to spend this money.

    Transparency ? This government does not know the meaning of it. We should of been told years ago of this instead Whistle-blowers came forth otherwise this issue would of gone on indefinitely without our knowledge. There is a reason why they tried to keep this from us in the first place. They know it is wrong to invade our privacy.

    The constitution guarantees that I won't be stopped and search arbitrarily. We all have to fight to get our rights back. Don't stand for this. It will only keep getting worse. Speak up for yourselves ! This government does not abide by the their own laws. We need accountability in government but the only way we will get that is to downscale the government and make it more responsive to our needs.
    • Debt

      That's what I've been thinking. They have to be spending billions of dollars on all the servers, hard drives, software, engineers, etc., just to store massive amounts of data that "they don't look at." And that's only what we know about. What about all the traffic light cameras and the software on them to detect car tags and track where every car goes?

      Who knows what all is out there that is putting together profiles of everything we do. These kind of things definitely aren't cheap and have very minimal ROI. Why are they using our money in secret to set up things we have no choice in and then lining their own pockets with any leftovers while we slump further and further into poverty?
  • Junk collectors

    ""Of the 54 terrorism events recently discussed in public, 13 of them had a homeland nexus, and in 12 of those cases, BR FISA played a role."

    Yeah ... and janitors and parking lot attendants "play a role" in Super Bowls, Olympics, presidential inaugurations, etc., too. Do we REALLY need to be spending this kind of money randomly trying to collect metadata on EVERYTHING?

    I've heard it said that if you took an infinite number of monkeys, put them in front of typewriters and let them randomly hit keys, eventually they would rewrite--character for character--all the great works of human literature.

    No doubt that's true. BUT for each MacBeth, Koran, Sherlock Holmes novel, etc., there would be BILLIONS OF TRILLIONS of documents with the first sentence of MacBeth, the second sentence of the Koran, the third sentence of the novel, twenty random Bible quotes, a paragraph from the Declaration of Independence, etc. There would be so much RANDOM GARBAGE there would be no way to know which "documents" were actually accurate, complete, AND USEFUL.

    From what they have been saying about the AMOUNT of data collected, what could they possibly be doing that could provide a reasonable amount of USEFUL data in anything approaching a cost-effective manner?
  • Nobel Prize

    for Bradley Manning.
  • The NSA is in the business of spying, and to do that job, they collect

    information. The other part of spying, is the lying about what the NSA does with the data, and where it comes from and how they gather it and how much of it. Spying and lying are what the NSA is about. Yeah, they have a function to perform, but, there's still the matter of our constitutional rights being violated.
  • People are dumb enough

    to believe that this information is being collected to protect them from terrorism and all the bogeymen out there, but the reality is that this spying is more likely to be aimed at opposition politicians, as the main concern of the people behind whatever muppet puppets are in office is staying in office and keeping the keys to the treasury.

    So, would be terrorists, mass murderers, corrupt officials, et al., those who pose a real threat to the largest number of citizens, don't worry, you are all completely safe, the government is not really interested in you, just those who are against them personally.
  • My Cocaine Addiction

    My cocaine addiction, in ounces is less than .000005 percent of all illegal drugs consumed in the United States. Guess that makes my cocaine addiction okay. Sweet.
  • Misleading information

    The masses need to be calmed and distracted from those things that are really happening. i do not believe a single word main-stream-media tells me about all this spying issue. they are blackmailed to only report and tell what our governments allow them to be told. not only in ths US but in all countries.
    that only a small number of traffic is supervised and analyzed... well... thats a piss take. just one example from Germany: a kid announced on his facebook account something, that was meant to be a joke.. he told his "friends" to visit, together with him, the "natural biotope" ("The Dagger Complex" near Darmstadt) of spies, to see how they move, talk, look-like...
    Some hours later german police officers knocked on his door interrogating him about his "terroristic statements on facebook". Being asked why they are on his doorstep, one of the officers told him, the US-government "ordered" the german officials to come to his home...
    You might think bad of me now, but IMHO: the differences of what the US-gov is doing and what the Nazis did is marginal. People are not bad - no matter of their religion, skin-colour, nationality by descent... governments and banks however are.
  • bits

    They are trying to say that they are actually doing nothing - that they only touch a small percentage of communications in this country. Well, what is the sense in that if the communications that they are trying to intercept is part of the data that they do not check. These people are not coming clean because they have access to not only the routers that control the Internet but also large portals such as Microsoft and Apple. They are trying to say that they only look at a small percentage but it seems that it would be hard to parse data out in real time that was useful or not. Especially this amount of data. They are also not very good at stopping cyber attacks because many get through. They even have a new idea now where they want to get all of the communications from the large data pipes that enter our country, as if they aren't already. They had this fake terrorist plot where they closed down embassies overseas because they supposedly intercepted 'terrorist' messages that were like the ones that they now intercept in the U.S. I think that the point that everybody missed on that is that nothing happened, there was no evidence of any plot, they said that they had chatter but nothing concrete - it was all a total fake thing. Of course, the U.S. sent some drones and they killed 4 people. This country might already be under some sort of totalitarian government and it was the right thing for Snowden to do to alert the country. Whether that will do any good remains to be seen but I do expect the government to continue to scare people so that they will let them have what they want! This needs to end!
  • There's no comfort in what NSA hasn't looked at yet

    OK, so NSA wants a pat on the back for looking at so little of everything they collect and then another attaboy for not being caught doing anything sinister with the data. Don't be surprised if some politicians decide not to run again to "spend more time with their family" when they're really being blackmailed by some rogue NSA employee. It's bound to happen.

    I get no comfort from knowing that they could do (but haven't yet done) devastating damage to more innocent Americans with a keyboard than any madman could do with a gun. So I have to do SOMETHING about this. Encryption is a good place to start. If everyone encrypted everything, it would cripple the NSA monitoring effort because of the time it would take to decrypt everything.

    Let's do it! Start using Tails & TOR for browsing, Textcrypt for text messages and Cellcrypt for mobile phone calls. Then, take everything off of Dropbox, Instagram, iCloud, etc, and stash it all in a Cloudlocker (www.cloudlocker.it) which works just the same but stays in your house where they still need a warrant to get inside.

    I'm sure we're going to seem more and better tools like these appear soon as good ol Yankee ingenuity revs up. What a shame that it's come to this.