NSA Collects Nearly 200 Million Texts a Day in Global Sweep

Thursday, 16 Jan 2014 04:55 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Calling texts a "gold mine to exploit," the National Security Agency collects nearly 200 million messages a day from around the world, using the data to pull out information such as travel plans, contacts, and credit card details, The Guardian reported Thursday.

The data was part of a massive trove of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the newspaper said.

Code named Dishfire, the spy agency's stunning text-message mining doesn't just store the information about intended targets, it collects "pretty much everything it can," according to documents from the United Kingdom's Government Communications Headquarters, the British newspaper reported.

A 2011 NSA presentation boldly subtitled "SMS Text Messages: A Goldmine to Exploit" showed Dishfire scooped up an average of 194 million text messages a day in April that year.

And then after texts were stored, a program called Prefer did an automated analysis, the newspaper reported.

Prefer used automated texts to pull out "content-derived metadata" — like locations, contacts and financial information — explaining "such gems are not in current metadata stores and would enhance current analytics," The Guardian reported.

Communications from U.S. phones were yanked from the database, but those of other countries, including the U.K., were kept, the newspaper said.

The stunning report was released a day before President Obama is set to present what measures he supports to reform the spy agency.

The president is expected to back the idea of changing the NSA's controversial bulk collection of telephone records from millions of Americans, though leaving specifics to Congress.

In The Guardian report, the NSA was said to be able to dig out each day more than 5 million missed-call alerts that helped it work out somone's social network; the details of some 1.6 million border crossings a day; more than 110,000 names; and over 800,000 financial transactions, either through text-to-text payments or linking credit cards to phone users.

It also extracted travel data from more than 76,000 text messages a day.

A spokeswoman for the NSA said implying the collection is "arbitrary and unconstrained is false," adding its efforts were only used against "valid foreign intelligence targets" and were subject to legal safeguards.

The Guardian said its investigation of the NSA's mining and storage of texts was done with U.K.'s Channel 4 News.

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