Now We Have Numbers: 59,000 NSA Spy Victims In Only Six Months

U.S. map with connected dots

Now that U.S.-based technological service providers are legally free to disclose some information on how frequently the National Security Agency is demanding backdoor, secret access to private user accounts, we’re starting to gain some idea of the scope of the NSA’s domestic spying activities. And in the first half of 2013, the agency vacuumed up data on a small city’s worth of unwitting Americans.

Wired reported Monday that the NSA, through its near-omniscient PRISM program, had gained access to 59,000 user accounts through the first six months of 2013 — the most recent period that tech companies like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have been allowed to disclose.

As Yahoo explains in its disclosure statement, that number exceeds the actual number of court-authorized “requests” (they’re compulsory; they’re not requests) the NSA makes because “an individual user may have multiple accounts that were specified in one or more requests, and if a request specified an account that does not exist, that nonexistent account would nevertheless be included in our count.”

However, that would imply that each of the government’s estimated 1,000 (at most) requests for Yahoo account access represented a user base in which each individual account holder, on average, had ownership of 30 (at least) separate Yahoo accounts — an unlikely scenario for each and every instance. Because the government still does not allow companies to disclose real numbers and constricts them to reporting ranges (in thousands) of numbers instead, Monday’s disclosures do not provide a reliable set of dots which, when connected, can verify the truthfulness of that explanation.

So what we’re left with is a general idea of how ambitious the NSA’s application of its domestic surveillance powers is. All of these “requests” originate from a court order — essentially a warrant — that allows only one party — the NSA — to know that spying is going on. Presumably, the majority of these account hits are aimed at American citizens, which any half-awake reader of the 4th Amendment would interpret as an unConstitutional severance of the government’s legal relationship with the people it’s supposed to support.

But that’s why the NSA and its legal and political support network (the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the Barack Obama Administration) have no intention of allowing the public to connect the dots with hard numbers. They don’t add up.

Note from the Editor: Under the Obama Administration, the NSA, the IRS, and the State and Justice departments are blatantly stepping on Americans’ privacy—and these are just the breaches we’re aware of. I’ve arranged for readers to get a free copy of The Ultimate Privacy Guide so you can be protected from any form of surveillance by anyone—government, corporate or criminal. Click here for your free copy.

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.