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View Diary: WTF?? EVERY Phone Call in the U.S. is Recorded? (357 comments)

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  •  Yeah, provided that the data capture and storage (15+ / 0-)

    capacity exists to do this, I've little doubt that they're doing this. Probably 99% of these calls don't get heard by humans and are either analyzed digitally or stored for future use. They probably want the ability to go back someday to a conversation that at the time didn't seem useful or which they missed. Well, that's probably the official explanation (assuming they gave one). In reality, the risk of these recordings being abused is simply not worth the potential benefits. Plus, I've no doubt that this in unconstitutional.

    "Liberty without virtue would be no blessing to us" - Benjamin Rush, 1777

    by kovie on Sat May 04, 2013 at 06:06:17 PM PDT

    •  The NSA is making the capture/storage (4+ / 0-)

      capability a reality, from what I understand.

      Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.
      ~ Jerry Garcia

      by DeadHead on Sat May 04, 2013 at 06:22:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I find that hard to believe (5+ / 0-)

        How many phone calls are there a day?  Let's just spit ball.  If everyone spends 20 minutes a day on the phone on average, and that takes up about 5 MB of storage.  Well there are something like 300 million plus people in this country.  Divide by 2 for each end of the call and that is 750 TB of data a day.  Heck even 1MB per person would be 150 TB per day.  There is no way they are actually recording all this data.  Maybe if you find your way onto a watchlist or say the wrong word(s) to trip a filter, but every call recorded.  No way.

        •  They have a huge data center (12+ / 0-)

          in Utah. That's known. It may not be the only one.
          When you can get a 4TB portable drive that's the size of an ordinary book, it's not at all impossible.

          (Is it time for the pitchforks and torches yet?)

          by PJEvans on Sat May 04, 2013 at 07:41:20 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  $140/4TB retail (8+ / 0-)

            The NSA buys in bulk, to say the least. I wouldn't be surprised if they own their own manufacturing facilities, for efficiency, security and reliability's sake. They may well use their own designs and technologies that are way beyond what the public or commercial purchasers can buy today. There's probably a small nuclear reactor on site to power and cool it all.

            And I doubt that the above estimate is accurate. A large percentage of the population either can't or doesn't use the phone much. Each conversation involves at least two people, cutting the number of people involved in half. Voice data is extremely compressible, especially using the highly advanced algorithms they've likely developed. Their budget it gynormous. Their only real limitation is having enough people to listen to it all, so most of is just saved.

            OMG, just think how much phone sex is stored in those facilities!

            "Liberty without virtue would be no blessing to us" - Benjamin Rush, 1777

            by kovie on Sat May 04, 2013 at 08:23:57 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Forget terrabytes, they're putting in storage on (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            MichaelNY, Dirtandiron, nchristine

            the yottabyte scale. 1 yottabyte = 1 trillion terabytes

        •  Unless the government has (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          CharlesInCharge, elmo

          a way to compress voice data much more than is currently available to normal humans, your 20 minute call is going to take 20MB to store (~1MB/min). I record my calls at work because I need to listen to them to catch information missed at the meeting as I write reports. A standard, listenable non-crappy format is going to take up a bit of space.

          And think of how many of those calls are simply useless from a spying perspective? Telemarketers, bill collectors, calls to pizza delivery places, giggly teenage girl phone calls going on for hours and hours (oh wait, I forgot, they text now, don't they?), etc. etc. etc.

          What a waste of resources if the government is really doing this. Really.

        •  My guess would be voice-to-text (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          One could imagine processing every phone call as it comes in to get the text out of it, which would be some tiny amount of data to store. Plus, it would make the calls keyword- and pattern-searchable. You don't even need to use voice identification to get the call participants, you have their phone numbers.

          The question I have is: Are landline calls still analog, or is everything digital through-and-through?

          Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

          by Simplify on Sat May 04, 2013 at 11:29:40 PM PDT

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          •  If that IS how they do (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            it's so prone to error that they would end up with a significant amount of garbage,

            If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

            by CwV on Sun May 05, 2013 at 05:22:15 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  I believe that everything's all-digital now (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            nchristine, protectspice, cynndara

            and has been for years, except maybe the actual phone and first X feet of copper, since many people still own and use cheap analog landline phones at home. But by the time the call reaches the first switch, it's almost certainly converted to digital, and stays that way until the final X feet to the other end.

            And while I'm sure they ALSO do voice-to-text, this is probably in addition to voice capture and storage, not instead of it to save storage space. And you still need to do voice recognition because not everyone who talks on a phone or line is necessarily its owner, and lots of people use prepaid phones without account holder names. No doubt they're also using GPS data as well to guess who's speaking, by matching it to home and work addresses and travel routes.

            I'm sure we're all just clumsily touching the tip of the iceberg here with respect to what the NSA is capable of and likely doing, and whoever is assigned to monitor our amateur attempts to guess what they're up to is probably having a good chuckle, akin to a rocket scientist overhearing trebuchet hobbyists discuss ballistics and talking trash about what the big boys are up to.

            And in any case the actual technology used is almost besides the point and not the real topic of controversy, which is the legality (not to mention utility) of doing this. Not only is it likely unconstitutional, it's also likely a huge waste of time and a source of false overconfidence. The people we should really be worried about are probably smart enough to find ways to go around all this, and they're still not catching all the dumb ones, like the Boston bombers.

            "Liberty without virtue would be no blessing to us" - Benjamin Rush, 1777

            by kovie on Sun May 05, 2013 at 06:27:23 AM PDT

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            •  I don't think anyone can ever stop them. (5+ / 0-)

              This cat's out of the bag.  We live now and forever in a Total Information world.  The permanence and irreversibility of the legislation that enacted this atrocity are the worst of its many horrible features.  

              None of this stuff is really even legal now, you know.  It's all purusant to statutes which were themselves in blatant violation of existing law and constitutional practice.  And I know that the recording of domestic telephone conversations -- i.e., conversations entirely within the borders of the United States -- is explicitly prohibited by the FISA Amendments Act.  

              None of that matters.  The Act was a perfect carte blanche to the intelligence community.  Its text does not say, but might as well say, "The NSA is hereby empowered to do absolutely anything it wants in the matter of surveillance, now and forever, without restriction, oversight, or notice, and for any imaginable purpose, past, present, or future.  The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution is hereby annulled."  And every senator and congressman with the brains of a rodent who voted for it knew that.  

              •  And Obama's DoJ has sought to prevent (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                protectspice, StrayCat, MichaelNY

                judicial oversight of these programs and review of the laws permitting them via the states secrets doctrine, which the courts have more than far. I don't expect that to last forever. Sooner or later the courts will weigh in, but likely not till they're less conservative, which is years if not decades away. In the meantime, better not discuss pressure cooker recipes electronically...

                "Liberty without virtue would be no blessing to us" - Benjamin Rush, 1777

                by kovie on Sun May 05, 2013 at 08:49:00 AM PDT

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                •  Courts are dysfunctional (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  StrayCat, MichaelNY

                  among other things due to political gridlock.  HOW many federal judgeships are lying vacant right now, because the Republicans simply refuse to allow anyone nominated by Obama to be appointed for any job, for any reason?  The Party Of No has imposed the Security State for the benefit of its patrones, and isn't going to allow it to be dismantled.

                  •  Which has ZERO to do with Obama's (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    willfully employing the bogus states secrets doctrine to block judicial review of clearly unconstitutional practices. Sorry, he doesn't get a bye here.

                    "Liberty without virtue would be no blessing to us" - Benjamin Rush, 1777

                    by kovie on Sun May 05, 2013 at 04:11:16 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

    •  It exists, kinda sorta, although (9+ / 0-)

      there have been teething problems:

      Ever since and even before 2000 there have been reports that the National Security Agency (NSA), America’s largest and most secretive intelligence agency, has chronic problems in powering its computers. In early 2000, most of the NSA’s computing infrastructure was down for four days (January 24-28). As a result, collected intelligence data was not processed. Michael Hayden, the director at the time, blames “software anomaly” and a “complex network running near capacity” for the outage As the amount of communications data grew over the years, the NSA required more and more processing capacity and hence more electricity. In 2006 the Baltimore Sun reported that the agency is at the brink of having its power demands exceeding supplies. According to the article, the agency cannot install new systems “for fear of blowing out the electrical infrastructure”. The Sun also reports that power problems have plagued the agency since the late 90s. In January 2007, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee called the NSA’s electricity crisis “"sort of a national catastrophe". In summer 2007, the Baltimore Sun again reports severe power shortages at NSA's Fort Meade headquarters.

      The good news is that * you * can help out (from the same link):

      Help the NSA fend of impending power outages by sending them your used or unused batteries! Although they might not contain enough electricity to power your flashlight, digital camera or radio, there is still some energy stored in them. And every little bit counts! So gather your old batteries and send them to the address below along with this letter. Put this sticker on your battery recycling bin.
    •  A one terrabyte external hard drive now costs (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Don midwest, Dirtandiron

      around $200 each.  Computer memory is now what the Model T is to the Lamborgini (sp??).

    •  Storage capacity (5+ / 0-)

      The storage capacity necessary to record every phone conversation in America and keep it indefinitely would be prohibitively expensive and massive.

      Scanning every phone call with voice recognition software and storing calls that contain certain words for a limited time is absolutely possible. Quite likely even. Project Echelon was reported doing this in the '90s

      If we abandon our allies and their issues, who will defend us and ours?

      by Bryce in Seattle on Sat May 04, 2013 at 07:23:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  How much data do you think is generated (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Don midwest

        on average through US phone conversations, using the most advanced compression known? Has anyone run a back of the envelope estimate?

        "Liberty without virtue would be no blessing to us" - Benjamin Rush, 1777

        by kovie on Sat May 04, 2013 at 08:28:01 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The phone company does not use PCs to digitize (25+ / 0-)

          and store audio data.  

          It appears to me that none of you actually know how the phone company digitizes the audio signal because, based on the comments so far it seems to me that folks here believe the phone company uses the same techinques PCs and Macs use to do this task.  Because PCs and Macs do it does not mean that it is the ONLY way it can be done.   It is as if anytime "data" is mentioned anywhere it has to relate to PCs and how they work, or the Internet and how it works.  There were techniques of doing things with digital data LONG before both PCs and the Internet existed.  Techniques well established.  Embedded solutions that have nothing to do with PCs and how they handle and compress data.  There is more to the digital electronics world than PCs, the Internet and the cell phone.

          The phone system does not use the same audio codecs, digitization or compression PCs and Macs use (although more modern PCs and MacOS may have software and hardware capable of decoding these techinques).  The phone company uses a technique known as CVSD (Continuously Variable Slope Delta Modulation) and more modernly, ADM (Advanced Delta Modulation). These schemes of digitization are capable of creating a serial data stream at the same data rate as the bandwidth of the input signal without having quantization issues.  So if the phone line is limited to a 3KHz signal (which it is) then the sample rate can be as low as 3KHz and still maintain signal integrity (although the phone company often samples at much higher rate to accompany modem FSK (Frequency Shift-Key) and provide better quality audio).

          Using this as a foundation, if the phone signal is limited to 3KHz and anti-aliased to 2KHz then it would take 3000 samples per second, yielding  180,000 samples per minute or 3.6M samples in a 20 minute call.  Remember that CVSD creates a SERIAL data stream so this would compress to only 450K 8-bit bytes.  Once compressed using standard compression this results in a data file less than 100K in size.

          More information on CVSD WARNING PDF!

          Now on to mass storage....

          All I can say is that there are optical drives capable of storing incredible amounts of data on single 12' optical discs.  These drives are not PC-related in any way and cannot be made to work with a PC.  They work on different principles than PC drives do and are only available to professionals.  But they do exist and have for many years.

          The prospect of the NSA or any other entity recording this much data is very real and a LOT of research has gone into how to accomplish such a task -- a lot more research than goes into a phone app or a new TB-size drive for PCs.

          I have personally been involved in digital audio research for many many years and have worked with many audio sampling schemes. I began working with digital audio in the mid 1970's -- long before most of the folks on this blog were even born. I have used CVSD for many audio designs including sound effects for pinball machines, speech synthesis and a few cool personal projects such as replica Star Trek  TNG "Com Badges" that actually work!   By digitizing the audio using CVSD the audio can be sent using a switched format half-duplex signal modulated FSK (OOK works great too) with no more than an RFPIC microcontroller as the heart of the transciever RF system (CML Microcircuits makes FINE CVSD/ADM devices that work on as low as 1.3v in TSSOP and QFN packages for those who know what this means and want to experiment with some devices OR you can use the old "standby" CVSD chip the Harris HC1-55564 [HC3] which is a 16-pin DIP package).  You will have to build a sampling device (I can help you with that one) and save your sound on EPROM or EEPROM (Flash memory).

          It really is that simple.  And it would take less data storage to save a 20+ minute call than it would this blog post and its comments.

          If you think of things strictly in terms of PC technology then it would indeed be a monumental task of extreme expense.  But if you go beyond the PC and see electronics outside the limited consumer world of PCs and the Internet there is a lot of capability out there that is not available to PC users at any price for any reason.


          Howlin' at the World from the Left Side of the Planet

          by WolfmanSpike on Sun May 05, 2013 at 12:26:19 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Thanks for the very useful comment...n/t (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            rlochow, Creosote

            "We are a Plutocracy, we ought to face it. We need, desperately, to find new ways to hear independent voices & points of view" Ramsey Clark, U.S. Attorney General.

            by Mr SeeMore on Sun May 05, 2013 at 12:34:08 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Superb comment. Thank you. /nt (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            rlochow, Creosote

            Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.
            ~ Jerry Garcia

            by DeadHead on Sun May 05, 2013 at 01:50:17 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Who said anything about PC's? (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            nchristine, Creosote

            It's just that most of us are only familiar with modern computers via PCs (along with Macs, smartphones, tablets, etc.), and aside from the optical discs you mentioned (which I'm sure someone talented enough COULD make to work with a PC with custom-made parts), everything here could be done on a PC, with the right hardware and software--in theory at least, as I'm sure that some of it is proprietary to the NSA and unavailable to the public or industry.

            And in any case the point is less which hardware and software would be needed to do this, or whether you or I or Google could access it, as to whether such hardware and software existed, to capture, compress, store and analyze every phone call in the US. I had no doubt before your comment that it did. You just got into the details more than most of us here are capable of, and verified it. 100K per 20 minutes, or 5k per minute. That's pretty damn impressive.

            If every person in the US who uses a phone spoke an average of 20 minutes a day, and let's say this was 250 million people, dividing this in two to account for the 2-way nature of most phone calls (and forgetting that some of these calls are with someone abroad), that's around 2.5TB of data. Let's round that up to 3TB to account for international calls. You can easily fit that on a single 4TB HD going for around $140 on sale.

            These optical discs that you speak of can apparently hold quite a bit more. They're probably more expensive, but the NSA's budget is effectively unlimited. So we're talking probably less than a thousand dollars a day. That's practically free in NSA terms, even with backups and redundency. And since they're optical, they're likely not spinning once filled, saving a huge amount of energy.

            Yeah, they can do this.

            "Liberty without virtue would be no blessing to us" - Benjamin Rush, 1777

            by kovie on Sun May 05, 2013 at 06:08:08 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  12' optical drives? Hmm. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            jeff in nyc

            To put the torture behind us is, inevitably, to put it in front of us.

            by UntimelyRippd on Sun May 05, 2013 at 12:52:43 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

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