The NSA has released a new transparency report in an effort to come clean about how much spying it does, but has failed miserably because it hides behind loosely worded definitions.
According to the intelligence agency’s new report, the FISA court has also issued 1,767 orders affecting 1,144 targets and 131 Pen Register/Trap and Trace orders affecting 319 targets.
More interestingly, the NSA has issued a single order under section 702 of FISA, which affected 89,138 targets in 2013. Section 702 orders are certificates that the FISA Court issues that can allow the NSA to put under surveillance entire facilities with thousands of people.
In fact, given the definition offered by the NSA, the number of affected people can be exponentially higher. “Within the Intelligence Community, the term ‘target’ has multiple meanings. For example, ‘target’ could be an individual person, a group, or an organization composed of multiple individuals or a foreign power that possesses or is likely to communicate foreign intelligence information that the U.S. government is authorized to acquire by the above-referenced laws,” the NSA explains just a few lines lower.
This means that one single target in the list could very well cover 1 person, 100 or 100,000. The real number of people affected by NSA’s spying under Section 702 of FISA remains unknown, but it could very well go up in the tens of millions without even trying too hard.
To make matters even worse, the numbers don’t encompass the people who are caught up in the dragnet just because they have a remote connection to one of the targets. The NSA is known to investigate at least two tiers of particular targets. The first tier is composed of the people that the target speaks to directly, while the second covers all individuals that each of the members of the first tier spoke to.
For instance, if you’re the target of the NSA and you speak to ten people in a given month, they’re the first tier. If each of these people communicates with another ten people, they’ll all be spied on, regardless of their ties to the initial individual.
The order affecting 89,000 targets, however, may cover more than just phone call metadata, but also emails, Facebook communications, instant messaging, and more. Most likely, given the extremely high number of targets under a single order, the judges have approved the NSA to collect just about anything it wants to on them.
Chances that they went over every single target and check-marked what type of data to collect for each of them are about as low as us ever finding out just how many people the NSA is spying on and just how many of them are perfectly innocent.