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The NSA Can Analyze Data From Way More People Than We Thought

The NSA now says it can monitor data from anyone up to three hops away from terror suspects.

The NSA Can Analyze Data From Way More People Than We Thought

Even if you aren't a direct target of the National Security Agency's PRISM program, the agency can still pluck your Internet communications for surveillance if you fall under the increasingly large group of people the NSA considers fair game to monitor.

Until today, the NSA had admitted to analyzing data of terror suspects and people related to them by up to two "hops", or degrees of separation. For example, any contacts in a terror suspect's email address book could be considered one hop away from them. Those contacts and each of their contacts—considered two hops away from the original suspect—are all considered fair territory for NSA investigation.

At a hearing today before the House Judiciary Committee, NSA deputy director Chris Inglis said the organization considered data from up to three hops away, more than the agency had previously stated.

In other words: Remember that original terror suspect? And their contacts? And their contacts' contacts? Now, throw their contacts' contacts' contacts into the mix. Even one additional hop means the inclusion of many, many more people on the list of the NSA's data sources. The famous 1967 social network experiment by Stanley Milgram posited there are only six degrees of separation between any two of us in the world. But in the hyper-connected 21st century, that number is now more like 4.74, at least on Facebook. As the degrees of separation between us continue to decrease, how long will it be before it takes no more than three hops to get from me to you?

[Image: Flickr user Jen SFO-BCN]