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NSA surveillance strike rate sits at 11 percent: Report

A Washington Post analysis of a sample of communications captured by the NSA over a four year period, has shown that roughly nine out of ten people caught in the NSA's surveillance were not targeted by the agency.
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Written by Chris Duckett on

Looking at 22,000 surveillance reports, the Washington Post has reported that only 11 percent of people's communications collected by the agency in its digital surveillance activities are targets of the NSA.

The surveillance reports were provided to the newspaper by Edward Snowden, and contained approximately 160,000 intercepts from 2009 to 2012 — 121,000 of which were instant messages, 22,000 were email, and almost 8,000 documents — and although US authorities refused to verify the veracity of the reports, the newspaper said that requests were made to "withhold specific details that they said would alert the targets of ongoing surveillance".

Although citizens of the Five Eyes nations — the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand — had their details obfuscated or "minismised" to some extent, the labels were reported to be able to identify individuals, such as the term "minimized U.S. president" which was used 1,227 times. If surveilled account could somehow spuriously be identified as foreign, then the Post says that it was collected by the NSA, with an example of foreignness being given as a non-US IP address.

Last week it was revealed that the NSA's XKeyscore program was targeting readers of Linux Journal as "extremists", and would mark users for tracking if they searched for 'TAILs' or 'Amnesiac Incogneto Live System', along with one of either 'linux', 'USB', 'CD', 'secure desktop', 'IRC', 'truecrypt', and 'Tor'.

In response, the NSA said that XKeyscore is a tool of its lawful foreign signals intelligence collection system, and has stringent oversight and compliance mechanisms.

NSA collects only what it is authorized by law to collect for valid foreign intelligence purposes — regardless of the technical means used by foreign intelligence targets," it said. "The communications of people who are not foreign intelligence targets are of no use to the agency."

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