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NSA 'Boundless Informant' software leak shows just how much data the government has

NSA 'Boundless Informant' software leak shows just how much data the government has

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Leaked information about a piece of NSA software called Boundless Informant could shed light on how organized the agency's surveillance program really is. Glenn Greenwald — who recently exposed both widespread phone metadata collection and an internet spying program called PRISM — has revealed details about the ominously named program, which aggregates and organizes the NSA's data. Greenwald says the tool is focused on metadata, not the contents of emails or phone calls. Among other things, it tracks how many pieces of information have been collected per country.

3 billion pieces of information were allegedly tracked in the US over a 30-day period ending in March. In that same period, 97 billion pieces were collected worldwide, with Iran, Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt, and India getting the heaviest surveillance. Some documents say the program includes individual IP addresses, which can help pinpoint location — similar to the geolocation data that was collected from Verizon and likely other carriers.

3 billion pieces of data collected on Americans in 30 days, nearly 100 billion pieces worldwide

Besides providing a clearer look at how the NSA analyzes its intelligence, this software could also put the lie to claims that revealing how many Americans are being watched under FISA would be too onerous. An NSA statement given to The Guardian said that the "NSA has consistently reported — including to Congress — that we do not have the ability to determine with certainty the identity or location of all communicants within a given communication. That remains the case."

James Clapper and others have also characterized FISA data collection on Americans as "unwitting," but Boundless Informant and other leaks seem to show a pattern of targeting American data — while revealing more about its massive worldwide surveillance program. The regularity of leaks from Greenwald and others could also suggest that more information is on the way.