Scope and Scale of NSA Surveillance

Transparency (of total surveillance by the NSA) was one of the magic terms in President Obama’s press conference at the White House yesterday. Simultaneously, the NSA published a 7-page statement [pdf] on its web page outlining what it is doing and on what basis. On page 6, the whole issue of total surveillance is down calculated for the common American subject who might in fact be more interested in sports than politics. In a box (for those who mind to go through the whole paper), at least one calculation error occurs.

In an attempt to compare total surveillance with a dime in a basketball court, the NSA writes,

Scope and Scale of NSA Collection

According to figures published by a major tech provider, the Internet carries 1,826 Pentabytes of information per day. In its foreign intelligence mission, NSA touches about 1.6% of that. However, of the 1.6% of the data, only 0.025% is actually selected for review. The net effect is that NSA analysts look at 0.00004% of the world’s traffic in conducting their mission – that’s less than one part in a million. Put another way, if a standard basketball court represented by an area smaller than a dime on that basketball court.

Well, 0.025% of 1.6% is 4 x 10-6. 0.00004% is another expression of 4 x 10-7. A basketball court has an area of usually 28 times 15 m2, or 4.2 x 106 cm2. A dime has a radius of about 0.9 cm. Thus, its area is about 2.54 cm2.  It would therefore represent about 6 x 10-7  or 0.00006% of the court. So, the NSA “touches” less than ten coins (or, in fact, six or seven) rather than one dime on a basketball court, on a daily basis.

If one believes the other figures.

10 August 2013 @ 3:32 pm.

Last modified August 10, 2013.

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