@normative If you don't want to share your contact lists with the government, maybe you just shouldn't know people.
— Jon Henke (@JonHenke) July 17, 2013
In the government nexus of public and legally disclosed information there is a surreal pocket of time where something that everyone knows cannot be legally admitted to. We know, they know we know, but officials cannot admit anything until there is a legal clearing process. Such it is now with the NSA. We all know they monitor, record and archive every phone call and email within the United States and elsewhere in the world, they know we know, but they cannot admit it under the law. So drip drip drip.
Chris Inglis, the agency’s deputy director, was one of several government representatives—including from the FBI and the office of the Director of National Intelligence—testifying before the House Judiciary Committee this morning. Most of the testimony largely echoed previous testimony by the agencies on the topic of the government’s surveillance, including a retread of the same offered examples for how the Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act had stopped terror events.
But Inglis’ statement was new. Analysts look “two or three hops” from terror suspects when evaluating terror activity, Inglis revealed. Previously, the limit of how surveillance was extended had been described as two hops. This meant that if the NSA were following a phone metadata or web trail from a terror suspect, it could also look at the calls from the people that suspect has spoken with—one hop. And then, the calls that second person had also spoken with—two hops. Terror suspect to person two to person three. Two hops. And now: A third hop.
Yeah, they are recording and archiving every phone call made and email sent in America but let’s play this little game for a minute. The NSA has now disclosed that instead of just tracking friends of friends, it can track friends of friends of friends. And like 5 degrees of Kevin Bacon, they eventually find a way to justify a way to get back to you.
For a sense of scale, researchers at the University of Milan found in 2011 that everyone on the Internet was, on average, 4.74 steps away from anyone else. The NSA explores relationships up to three of those steps
Wouldn’t you know the internet is a network.
Later when the NSA finally admits what we know and they know we know – that the agency is grabbing all the data – we can look back fondly on these little discussions on “hops.”