White House/Pete Souza

The National Security Agency has been collecting nearly 200 million text messages a day, according to a report in The Guardian. It uses the text messages to extract all kinds of data including location, contact networks and credit card information, according to leaked top-secret documents by whistle-blower Edward Snowden. This collection has also been used by British spy agency GCHQ to search the metadata of people in the U.K. even if they are “untargeted and unwarranted.” According to the report, GCHQ’s program, code named Dishfire, collects “pretty much everything it can.” This is in stark opposition to previous claims that collections were limited to communications of surveillance targets. According to The Guardian, the NSA has used the information to extract precise and wide sweeping information about individuals who are under no suspicion of illegal activity. Some details from The Guardian:

In 2011, according to NSA program “Prefer”, 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 agency was also able to extract geolocation data from more than 76,000 text messages a day, including from “requests by people for route info” and “setting up meetings”. Other travel information was obtained from itinerary texts sent by travel companies, even including cancellations and delays to travel plans.

To read more on the revelations and inner workings go here.

The president has promised to announce his reforms (or lack thereof) of the NSA on Friday. Will he mention this latest revelation?

—Posted by Donald Kaufman

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