The National Security Agency has reportedly collected nearly 200 million text messages a day across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks and credit card details, according to top-secret documents.
The NSA program called DISHFIRE, collects “pretty much everything it can,” according to GCHQ documents, rather than merely storing the communications of existing surveillance targets, reports The Guardian.
The new revelation of “untargeted” collection and storage of SMS messages – including their contacts – was reported in a joint investigation between the Guardian and the UK’s Channel 4 News based on material provided by NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden.
If the documents are legitimate, it shows the NSA extracted information on travel plans, contact books, financial transactions and more – including from individuals under no suspicion of illegal activity.
The presentation, labeled on some pages as Top Secret and Secret, also reveal the UK spy agency GCHQ has made use of the NSA database to search the metadata of “untargeted and unwarranted” communications belonging to people in the UK. The Guardian reports on average each day the NSA was able to extract:
• More than 5 million missed-call alerts, for use in contact-chaining analysis (working out someone’s social network from who they contact and when)
• Details of 1.6 million border crossings a day, from network roaming alerts
• More than 110,000 names, from electronic business cards, which also included the ability to extract and save images.
• Over 800,000 financial transactions, either through text-to-text payments or linking credit cards to phone users
The report also reveals the extraction of geolocation data from more than 76,000 text messages a day, including from “requests by people for route info” and “setting up meetings.” Itinerary texts sent by travel companies, including cancellations and delays to travel plans, were also gathered.
The unclassified portions of the brief reveal other interesting data points about communication habits of mobile users; 6.1 trillion SMS messages were sent in 2010, roughly 200,000 per second. The brief projected that number to exceed 10 trillion last year and revealed that the two countries that send the most texts are the Philippines and the United States.
The National Security Agency did respond to The Blaze’s request for comment with a blanket statement via email:
“As we have previously stated, the implication that NSA’s collection is arbitrary and unconstrained is false. NSA’s activities are focused and specifically deployed against – and only against – valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements. DISHFIRE is a system that processes and stores lawfully collected SMS data.
Because some SMS data of U.S. persons may at times be incidentally collected in NSA’s lawful foreign intelligence mission, privacy protections for U.S. persons exist across the entire process concerning the use, handling, retention, and dissemination of SMS data in DISHFIRE. In addition, NSA actively works to remove extraneous data, to include that of innocent foreign citizens, as early as possible in the process.”
(H/T: The Guardian)
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