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Don't freak out, but the government records and stores every phone call and email

Evan Dashevsky | May 7, 2013
Is the government recording and listening to your every phone call and probing every email for dangerous ideas? Probably.

This Uber Communication DVR technology may be an outcome of the National Security Agency's (NSA's) push to expand its Global Information Grid (GIG) to handle yottabytes of data (10 ^ 24 bytes of data, or a septillionbytes).

The NSA agency website describes the GIG program as "a net-centric system operating in a global context to provide processing, storage, management, and transport of information to support all Department of Defense (DoD), national security, and related Intelligence Community missions and functions -- strategic, operational, tactical, and business -- in war, in crisis, and in peace."

So, how vast are the government's data dragnet? According to a 2010 Washington Post story, "Every day collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications." Theses communications are the result of both foreign and domestic spying.

The WaPo story specifically profiled the NSA's communication-monitoring system around the DC area. But the program may soon find a new remote home. Last year, Wired took an in-depth look a new multi-billion dollar NSA complex in the Utah dessert scheduled be completed later this year. According to their report, the complex's "near-bottomless" databases will store "all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails--parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital 'pocket litter.'" According to a "senior intelligence official" quoted in the story, the Utah facility will also be a vital tool in breaking encrypted codes.

The long time traveling arm of the law

According to the Wall Street Journal, last year the White House has authorized the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) to collect millions of records on US Citizens--even those not suspected of any crime. In addition, these updated regulations have given government agencies the ability to store the information they gather for up to five years, whereas previously they could only keep data for 180 days. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence's Civil Liberties Protection Officer commented that "The guidelines provide rigorous oversight to protect the information that we have, for authorized and narrow purposes."

So, maybe that makes you feel better.

No matter how vast a database or how sophisticated an algorithm, no organization has the power to monitor every communication--there just aren't enough analysts and translators to sort through it all. However, stealthy computers or plain old detective work may highlight certain individuals (we hope, the right individuals), and prompt the authorities to comb through their digital past. So, while "they" may not listening to everything you're saying. it certainly seems like they have the power to go back and find out what you said.


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