On Thursday, a new report based on the material leaked by National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden revealed that the agency has collected and analyzed nearly 200 million text messages a day through a program called Dishfire.
The Guardian reported that one 2011 NSA document referred to SMS text messages as a “goldmine to exploit” and another noted that text messages and automatic alerts about roaming charges were “analytic gems” for the agency. NSA officials used the communications data to extract credit card, location and contact data for people under investigation without a warrant, the report said.
After collecting the data the NSA has the capability to run the information through a program called Prefer to catalogue details about individuals’ travel habits, financial transactions and other personal information.
The agency had reportedly deleted the information detailing the collection and analysis of Americans’ text messages.
Via The Guardian:
• 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”.
In a statement to the newspaper, an NSA spokeswoman said: “As we have previously stated, the implication that NSA’s collection is arbitrary and unconstrained is false,” she said. “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 US persons may at times be incidentally collected in NSA’s lawful foreign intelligence mission, privacy protections for US 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.”
The agency also reportedly worked in unison with British intelligence officials in collecting and sharing the communications data.
During a Friday speech at the Justice Department, President Barack Obama is expected to discuss possible changes to the National Security Agency based on the suggestions of a White House advisory panel he appointed to review the agency.
The President’s speech at the Justice Department will come just a week after the release of a New America Foundation analysis claiming that bulk collection of digital communications data has done little to protect the Nation from terrorists. The analysis examined 225 terror cases, finding that investigations of terror suspects were most often sparked by “informants, tips from local communities, and targeted intelligence operations.”