back to article Decoding America's spies: What does the NSA's cryptic memo really mean? Citizens illegally spied on again

The NSA illegally gathered a trove of American citizens' phone and text message records just four months after it promised it had taken steps to literally not do that again. That's the upshot of a document [PDF] provided to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and made public this week. The dossier was supplied by the NSA …

  1. Mark 85 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Masters of weasel-wording

    Even common words like "inaccurate" are frequently bent to their breaking point in documentation in order to conceal and obfuscate surveillance programs' inner workings.

    They've take their weasel words to a new level beyond want the advertisers do.

  2. A.P. Veening Silver badge

    America, land of the free fee and home of the brave slave.

    The second American revolution is long over due. Jefferson would be appalled.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Hey, at least this stuff can be found out, even if they aren't meant to be doing it there's some oversight happening. It's not perfect, you need to remember that spy programs aren't set up with evil intent. Despite what you might see in films and TV they aren't the bad guys. Programs like this are set up to protect you, jeez Facebook has done worse and that's purely to make money off you!

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Re: spy programs aren't set up with evil intent

        It is not the intent that is the problem, it is who is using it and for what. Whatever the intent was initially, it can be used to, for example, keep tabs on people who are not happy about the program and dig up dirt on them to shut them up.

        It would be a very large deviation from what I do sincerely believe the NSA wants to do, ie protect US citizens, but it is possible that part of NSA activity has to do with things that have nothing to do with the protection of US citizens.

        The fact that the NSA is consistently lying about its activities with the straightest of face is not very reassuring either.

      2. scrubber
        Devil

        Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

        > "you need to remember that spy programs aren't set up with evil intent"

        That entirely depends on what you consider evil.

        I would consider it evil to use citizens' money to pay for a scheme that stores, processes and uses information collected from said citizens in order to further various political, legal and societal goals that the people being spied on may not agree with, but I'm just some kooky libertarian I guess.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Jefferson approved of slavery – after all he “owned” thousands of them. He also regularly raped some of them.

      His major objection to the crown was paying taxes.

      1. jgarbo
        Terminator

        As a healthy rapist should! All one's vital energy expended and still have to pay taxes! Rebellion, men!

    3. Youngone Silver badge

      happened just months after the same cock-up led to millions of records being wrongly gathered

      Is the bit that caught my eye.

      I think cock-up is the wrong phrase. I think the system is working as designed.

      After all, the last time the NSA was caught breaking the law there was no punishment, so why would they stop?

  3. harmjschoonhoven
    Boffin

    Fake data

    I count about 16 zero's and 22 one's in the data besides the eagle's head in the illustration.

    Benford's Law predicts it should be more like 25 zero's and 13 one's, that is two zeros for every one. This holds for almost all data represented as binary numbers. If you do not believe this, try it out for yourself.

    1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

      Re: Fake data

      You might want to read that more carefully.

    2. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

      Re: Fake data

      @harmjschoonhoven: I would like to encourage you to invest more effort in studying a) Benford's law, b) more generally, statistics of small samples.

      1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

        Re: Fake data

        And, more specifically in this case, the difference in character width for 0 and 1 and the selection of the sample for its visual properties mean more than the data itself!

  4. phuzz Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Fill in the blanks

    Lets play the game of filling in the blanks:

    "On or about October 12, 2018, NSA technical analysts examining the targeted production of CDRs observed an anomaly. Specifically, these analysts identified a larger than expected number of phone calls, texts, emails, etc. for everyone sharing a surname with the target. Further investigation determined that these records were produced by overly broad search terms. On October 12, 2018, NSA requested the provider investigate the anomaly. The provider later confirmed that this massive cock up has resulted in the creation of CDRs which contain more information than even we wanted."

    Try it for yourself!

    "On or about October 12, 2018, NSA technical analysts examining the targeted production of CDRs observed an anomaly. Specifically, these analysts identified a larger than expected number of [LONG REDACTION]. Further investigation determined that these records were produced by [REDACTED]. On October 12, 2018, NSA requested the provider investigate the anomaly. The provider later confirmed that [REDACTED] has resulted in the creation of CDRs [LONG REDACTION]."

    1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

      Re: Fill in the blanks

      Or:

      "On or about October 12, 2018, NSA technical analysts examining the targeted production of CDRs observed an anomaly. Specifically, these analysts identified a larger than expected number of internet search results. Further investigation determined that these records were produced by Google. On October 12, 2018, NSA requested the provider investigate the anomaly. The provider later confirmed that leaving out any filter term has resulted in the creation of CDRs for all searches processed by Google USA for the 24 hour period."

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Fill in the blanks

      Some of these redactions seem to be aimed solely at covering the identity of the provider who the NSA are blaming for the excess. Name and shame. Or would the provider be liable to defend themselves with facts the NSA doesn't want to be released?

    3. 2+2=5 Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Fill in the blanks

      "On or about October 12, 2018, NSA technical analysts examining the targeted production of CDRs observed an anomaly. Specifically, these analysts identified a larger than expected number of cookery book recipies for rice pudding.

      Further investigation determined that these records were produced by Mary Berry. On October 12, 2018, NSA requested the provider investigate the anomaly.

      The provider later confirmed that the initial search, which was run by an unnamed NSA junior analyst while under the influence of a rumbling-tummy, has resulted in the creation of CDRs that might undermine the traditional donut-based diet of our agents."

  5. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge
    Happy

    What does the NSA's cryptic memo really mean? Citizens illegally spied on again

    Wrong. It means that they are above the law &/or the law does not applies to them.

    Remember, whenever the American government claims on how the Chinese government spies on anyone/everyone, the same accusation applies to them (the American government).

    In 1990s, Boeing, through ECHELON, intervened when Saudi Arabia was about to purchase billions of dollars worth of Airbus planes.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021