On the day President Barack Obama proposed reforms to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the National Security Agency shared a paper claiming legal authority for its spying and revealing that it "touches" 1.6 percent of Internet information.
The memo says that after the 2001 terror attacks, "Several programs were developed to address the U.S. Government's need to connect the dots of information available to the intelligence community and to strengthen the coordination between foreign intelligence and domestic law enforcement agencies," including the bulk collection of telephone and email records.
The memo included an outline of the "Scope and Scale of NSA Collection:"
According to figures published by a major tech provider, the Internet carries 1,826 petabytes 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 the global communications environment, NSA's total collection would be represented by an area smaller than a dime on that basketball court.
The scope of the NSA surveillance programs has raised concern among the public and some lawmakers. Last month, the House of Representatives narrowly voted down an amendment to a bill that would have reigned in the NSA's collection of phone records.
Despite Obama's proposal to change the FISA court, there may not be enough support for significant reform.