Hard numbers, chilling facts: What the government does with your data

The Brennan Center for Justice lays out what the NSA does with your data. The news is worse than you think

I admit it -- I'm suffering from Snowden fatigue. The sheer volume of revelations about how the surveillance industrial complex digs its blue latex-gloved fingers into every nook and cranny of our lives has me exhausted. And there seems to be no end in sight.

Take, for example, this week's revelation that the NSA routinely scrapes address books from popular Webmail services, looking for connections. Per IDG News:

On a typical day, the NSA collects about 500,000 buddy lists and inboxes (which seems to refer to address books), according to the documents. But the number is also sometimes higher. On one representative day mentioned in the documents, the NSA gathered 444,743 Yahoo address books, 105,068 Hotmail contact lists and 82,857 address books from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from other providers for a total of 689,246.

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Or the revelations about Microsoft building backdoors into Skype for the spooks. Or the efforts to coerce encrypted email services into violating the privacy of hundreds of thousands of customers. I cannot articulate the differences between EgotisticalGoat, Erroneous Identity, or Epicfail, let alone the dozens of other perversely named spy programs.

The NSA nightmare -- told through pictures

Fortunately, someone has built a life raft for those of us drowning in the tsunami of data about NSA spying. Last week the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan think tank and advocacy group, published a remarkably clear breakdown called "What the Government Does with Americans' Data." It should be required reading for anyone who cares about what's left of our Constitution, once the buffoons in our nation's capital have stopped using it as confetti. There's an 88-page report, a summary of the conclusions, chilling numbers to consider, and a handful of amazingly concise infographics. Start with the latter to get the gist, then go to the intro.

The tl;dr version: The NSA gathers a massive amount of information on people who are not in any way connected with any terrorist activity, then holds onto it for at least five years and often much longer. It also shares this information with 10 different federal agencies, including the Department of Justice, Homeland Security, and the FDA.

What the Government Does with Americans' Data
Credit: Brennan Center for Justice

As one infographic explains, if the NSA happens to hoover up a U.S. citizen's data along with that of suspected foreign evil doers, it will hold onto it for up to six years to analyze whether it contains "significant foreign intelligence information" or "evidence of a crime that has been, is being, or is about to be committed."

In other words, if you get caught in a digital dragnet, the spooks will sift your data to see if you've been naughty. If you have, they send that information to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

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