As an aside during testimony on Capitol Hill Wednesday, a National Security Agency representative rather casually indicated that the government looks at data from a universe of far, far more people than previously indicated.
Chris Inglis, the agency's deputy director, was one of several government representatives -- including from the FBI and the office of the Director of National Intelligence -- testifying before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning. Most of the testimony largely echoed previous testimony by the agencies on the topic of the government's surveillance, including a retread of the same offered examples for how the Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act had stopped terror events.
But Inglis' statement was new. Analysts look "two or three hops" from terror suspects when evaluating terror activity, Inglis revealed. Previously, the limit of how surveillance was extended had been described as two hops. This meant that if the NSA were following a phone metadata or Web trail from a terror suspect, it could also look at the calls from the people that suspect has spoken with—one hop. And then, the calls that second person had also spoken with—two hops. Terror suspect to person two to person three. Two hops. And now: A third hop.