The Washington Post is reporting that the NSA, despite what we’ve been led to believe via other leaks, is only collecting around 30% of all the cellular data that is available for monitoring at home and overseas.
According to officials from the agency (many of whom are reportedly coming forward in light of Snowden’s actions), both the NSA and GCHQ were not adequately funded or prepared for the explosion in cell and smartphone usage that we’ve seen over the past half decade, and have been struggling to keep up ever since.
Possibly the most clever side effect of leaking out the documents slowly instead of all at once is that it allows for this very kind of statement to be the ammunition the agency uses to shoot themselves in the foot with as soon as Snowden proves it wrong. Every time Michael Hayden or any of the top brass from the NSA have taken the stand they’ve been responding to allegations of a previous leak, without considering that what they’re saying may be proven completely false by the very next set of PowerPoint slides.
All it takes is one more guided missile of a bombshell to break down any story the two agencies might be able to pump out of their public relations division, and thankfully all three news organizations in possession of the documents in question are acutely aware of the power they’ve been trusted with for that very reason.
Of course, there are several clues which lead us to believe the 30% statistic might be accurate. Firstly, the Utah data center. When building this behemoth of a backup server dug underground somewhere in the high desert of Utah, the United States government actually drove up the cost of storage devices worldwide based on how much of the supply they were sucking up with our tax dollars. Many of these purchases were considered strictly black budget stuff, so even though companies like Cisco were calling up Seagate and asking what the deal was, by law all the hard drive manufacturers could do was make up some story about the economy of storage and that was the end of that.
Second, it’s very much like the government to believe that even 30% of everything is still better than nothing, and as far as most of Washington is concerned that’s your tax dollars paying for a successful program at work.
Several leaks do back up the story that much of the cellphone calls that the NSA gathers is stripped of metadata, compressed, and the other 98% of the content is thrown away simply due to the inflated cost of keeping it around. This practice was likely set to change in the very near future with the activation of the Utah server farm, however now that their workshop has come under fire they may be reconsidering the unrestricted push toward a 100% collection rate.
Whatever eventually ends up being the truth in the matter, this news could be somewhat hopeful. Multiple sources have collaborated to back it up, and it’s from one of the main leak sources publishing what amounts to one of the first victories privacy advocates have seen since this whole debacle started.