Massive Volumenreduzierung

The Guardian‘s scoop on GCHQ’s submarine cable tapping:

The processing centres apply a series of sophisticated computer programmes in order to filter the material through what is known as MVR – massive volume reduction. The first filter immediately rejects high-volume, low-value traffic, such as peer-to-peer downloads, which reduces the volume by about 30%. Others pull out packets of information relating to “selectors” – search terms including subjects, phone numbers and email addresses of interest. Some 40,000 of these were chosen by GCHQ and 31,000 by the NSA. Most of the information extracted is “content”, such as recordings of phone calls or the substance of email messages. The rest is metadata.

German politicians are horrified:

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, the German justice minister, said the report in the Guardian read like the plot of a film.

“If these accusations are correct, this would be a catastrophe,” Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said in a statement to Reuters. “The accusations against Great Britain sound like a Hollywood nightmare. The European institutions should seek straight away to clarify the situation.”

The FAZ reports in some detail and talks to the German intelligence services:

Man arbeite ganz anders als die transatlantischen Partnerdienste, heißt es. Wenn Amerikaner oder Briten das große Schleppnetz auswerfen, dann sieht sich der deutsche Dienst als der Schwimmer, der mit einer technisch ausgefeilten Harpune darauf erpicht ist, den großen Fisch zu erlegen. Tatsächlich kann der BND mit seinen insgesamt rund 6500 Mitarbeitern den Abhördiensten der Amerikaner und Briten rein personell nicht das Wasser reichen. Anstatt große Datenmengen abzuspeichern, rastert und verdichtet der deutsche Dienst sie.

Dabei nimmt man in Anspruch, immer effektiver zu arbeiten. Hatte man 2010 noch 37 Millionen Kommunikationen, im wesentlichen E-Mails, gefiltert, so waren es im folgenden Jahr weniger als drei Millionen. Im Jahr 2012 liegt man bei weniger als einer Million Daten, weil die „Selektionsfähigkeit“ aufgrund bestimmter Suchbegriffe und Algorithmen verbessert wurde. Die Zahl der sicherheitsrelevanten Ergebnisse – es sind wenige hundert – ist gleich geblieben

I translate:

We work quite differently to our transatlantic partners, a source said. If the Americans or the British throw out a big trawl net, by contrast, the German service sees itself as the swimmer who sets out to catch the big fish with a harpoon honed on the cutting edge of technology. The BND, with around 6,500 staff, can’t keep up with the British or American SIGINT agencies in terms of personnel. Rather than storing huge volumes of data, the German service condenses and filters it.

This requires a constant effort to work more efficiently. 37 million communications, essentially e-mail messages, were caught in the filter in 2010, but less than 3 million the following year. For 2012, the figure is less than a million, because the system selectivity has improved with better algorithms and better search queries. The number of results that were relevant for national security, a few hundred, stayed the same.

Note the careful spin here. We don’t take all that traffic. No, only carefully selected nuggets out of it. The numbers are falling every year!

But it’s obviously impossible to filter the traffic, however selectively, without first pulling it in. And if the numbers are falling, it’s because the filtering process, and presumably the analytical capacity and computing infrastructure involved, has become more effective. You could even call it “massive Volumenreduzierung” or something. What a masterly piece of non-denial denial.

I note that Steffen Bockhahn of the Linkspartei has made this point at the foot of the piece.

3 thoughts on “Massive Volumenreduzierung

  1. “But it’s obviously impossible to filter the traffic, however selectively, without first pulling it in.”

    Actually no. From what I understand they are monitoring streams for a few (maybe e few thousand) search terms and keywords. You do not need to pull in and store anything for that. You do however need to dive into (tap) the stream which maybe just as bad as storing everything.

    Storing everything indefinitely may be more valuable for predictive models which is why I assume governments in the less privacy aware US and UK have opted for it. But storing information about what you ate for breakfast 7 years ago (twitter anyone) is also much more invasive and prone to abuse then checking in real time whether or not what you ate had a few keywords. Its another scale of privacy invasion.

  2. Captain Renault is shocked to discover there is gambling going on in here.

  3. The existence and mission of the NSA and GCHQ has not been a secret for many decades. There are many books on the subject. The existence of ECHELON is a very poorly-guarded secret. The fact that the anglosaxons spy on Europe should not come as a huge shock, since (a) they been doing it for a century; and (b) it has proved to be a useful activity at times, such as when Europe was terror-bombing London.

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