Stratecast Confidential: The Impact of the NSA on the Big Data Market—and Global Communications


Jeff Cotrupe’s report spotlights NSA’s inspection beyond “infrastructure” to user content (calls, emails, Web interactions, and even Angry Birds)

Stratecast has published Jeff Cotrupe’s report Stratecast Confidential: The Impact of the NSA on the Big Data Market—and Global Communications. Stratecast spoke briefly with the National Security Agency (NSA) in connection with the report, and the NSA, perhaps not surprisingly, refused to officially provide content or comments for publication. Among others, Stratecast did speak with Salil Vadhan of Harvard University*, whose work in the emerging field of differential privacy is relevant to issues surrounding not only the NSA but also companies in the private sector, as well as academia.

The report’s key findings include:

  • Through secret initiatives with codenames such as PRISM and MUSCULAR, the NSA has obtained direct access to much of the electronic communication in the U.S., as well as credit card transactions.
  • The NSA claims to only be interested in metadata, “data about the data,” such as call times and duration, and not the actual content of messages. However, the NSA has also been working with its U.K. counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), to crack Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption, which protects the content of communications and transactions executed via the Web.
  • While privacy is already threatened or extinct in a growing number of places, the NSA’s actions are accelerating and expanding this phenomenon, and since electronic communications are the lifeblood of a great deal of commercial activity, the NSA may also begin to have a chilling effect on the U.S. economy.

The report is available to clients of Stratecast’s Big Data & Analytics (BDA) growth partnership practice, with summary content posted here.

* Salil Vadhan is a Vicky Joseph Professor of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics; Director, Center for Research on Computation & Society; and Co-Director of Undergraduate Studies, Applied Mathematics, School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, at Harvard University.

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