The Z Man suggests that NSA’s espionage prowess might be the stuff of fantasy and nothing more:
The government buys all of its technology from the private sector. There are things done for the government by private contractors that are not for anyone else, but the government does not have special magic. Further, the government is not getting the best and brightest. There’s way too much money to be made in the private sector for the government to get the best and brightest. The Snowden affair shows you how sloppy this stuff is, even at the highest level.
More important, the volume of data involved is so large there’s simply no way to sort through it in a meaningful way. There are 150 billion e-mails sent every day. That’s 55 trillion e-mails a year. Searching that volume of records for useful data is simply impractical. Throw in the 100 trillion or so phone calls and probably the same number of texts and the volume of data is well beyond what could be useful. That’s why they don’t try, but they’re fine letting people think it. The Feds are relying on the CSI effect to convince the world they can read your mind.
The CSI effect … is any of several ways in which the exaggerated portrayal of forensic science on crime television shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation influences public perception. The term most often refers to the belief that jurors have come to demand more forensic evidence in criminal trials, thereby raising the effective standard of proof for prosecutors. While this belief is widely held among American legal professionals, some studies have suggested that crime shows are unlikely to cause such an effect, although frequent CSI viewers may place a lower value on circumstantial evidence. As technology improves and becomes more prevalent throughout society, people may also develop higher expectations for the capabilities of forensic technology.
Ever try to defuzz a fuzzy picture the way they do on TV? Not happening, folks. And even if it were, you wouldn’t get a 1000-pixel-wide pastel-colored box on screen that says “Completed.”
Then again, NSA could just be stockpiling all this crap in anticipation of the time when they can do something useful with it.
And, per the dreamiest security person on earth:
We already have machines that think they're never wrong and kill people. They're called governments.
— InfoSec Taylor Swift (@SwiftOnSecurity) September 6, 2014
Obviously, the most immediate need is for more realistic TV procedurals.