NSA Collecting Hundreds Of Millions Of Text Messages Daily, Looking At 'Untargeted' Messages & Data

from the collect-it-all dept

The latest in the ongoing revelations for the Ed Snowden leaks is that the NSA and GCHQ are collecting what appears to be hundreds of millions of text messages every day. While it does try to “minimize” messages involving Americans, it appears to allow access to the rest of the database to the GCHQ in the UK, who does use it to spy on UK phone numbers. GCHQ staff are told to avoid viewing actual content of UK text messages, but it’s unclear if that’s enforced. As the NSA notes, this database, called DISHFIRE, is “a goldmine to exploit.”

And, yes, they’re exploiting it. And no, not just against “targets.”

The NSA has made extensive use of its vast text message database to extract information on people’s travel plans, contact books, financial transactions and more – including of individuals under no suspicion of illegal activity.

The NSA runs a program called “Prefer” across all the information in the database to turn up “gems” that it admits “are not in current metadata stores and would enhance current analytics.”

The NSA sure does like its smiley faces, doesn’t it? Among the data they’re able to access? Each day this data gives them details of “over 800,000 financial transactions, either through text-to-text payments or linking credit cards to phone users.” It also tracks travel information from things like itinerary texts as well as cancellations and delays. Thought it was nice that your airline informed you of your flight delay? Sounds like the NSA got to know about it too.
It’s not entirely clear from the report how the NSA/GCHQ are getting access to these messages. Reporters spoke to Vodafone, who insisted that they were not handing over such data, but these days, you never know who’s being truthful. In response to all of this, the NSA repeated its nearly impossible to believe claim that its “activities are focused and specifically deployed against — and only against — valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements.” Valid foreign intelligence targets send 200 million text messages a day? Yeah…

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Comments on “NSA Collecting Hundreds Of Millions Of Text Messages Daily, Looking At 'Untargeted' Messages & Data”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: An easy way to mess with the NSA

now they have given up the ruse that its metadata and that they are mining financial and other information from text messages. I find it disturbing that some future policy may deem this content to be usable for identifying financial fraud, narcotics investigations, theft or extramarital affairs to blackmail or jail masses of the population. And we just have their words that “they won’t do it”? So we’re supposed to trust them, while they don’t trust any of us and keep spying on everyone.

Anonymous Coward says:

the same A5/1 exploit technology gives you SMS as well as voice; it would not be remotely difficult to set up an industrial scale intercept/cracking network across most countries and/or continents – just expensive.

Assuming ‘incidental’ means “americans traveling outside the US” I don’t think this is problematic in terms of the goals of the NSA.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think you’re being somewhat optimistic about what they might consider incidental. If the NSA had to grab every last Amercian’s data to get data for the whole world, they’d still consider the American data to be “incidental”.

Still, this revelation is more focused on the UK and the GCHQ, which is handily storing all the UK citizen’s data, ripe for abuse.

Anonymous Coward says:

AC commenter #5 brings exactly the point I came to make comment on. We’ve admissions either through Snowden’s documents or through accusations and counter responses that these spying agencies are vacuuming up undersea fiber communications. We have administrations that pretty much all metadata is being collected. Here it is again lined out that the A5/1 data is being mined for the contents of text data. So how long is it till it’s revealed that not only is the metadata recorded but also the vocal contents of your conversations on cell phones?

The NSA says it doesn’t do that. Can you really at this stage believe that?

Anonymous Coward says:

wow, 200 million terrorists, blimey /s

I wonder how many “level headed” ….”ana”-“ly-zers”, feel like their in a movie with this never before new age surveilance, talking overly fast, communicating as quickly as possible, illegaly surveyed information, to a “team” physicaly in contact with the “target”…….not caring whether that person has ACTUALLY done anything wrong, within the boundaries of our rights……..nahhhh

Abby says:


Am I reading that slide correctly? Over 6 million SIM card changes daily out of how many phones? We just busted one per person, planet wide. I imagine those who think this dodge works use many more than one once a day.

That’s a lot of political oppression on the planet or lots of us have something we prefer remain our business. Both, really. Obviously, piracy is part of it, but we eliminate that at the cost of the politically oppressed. Nothing can undermine a dictatorial leadership more than pirated video!

I guess it’s why no carriers have prevented this backdoor access seen years ago and flagged by technical privacy guardians.

If we find out providers were complicit or willfully negligent in allowing all this intrusion, we’re gonna need a truth and reconciliation resolution or the haystacks will collapse.

We’ll stick our virtual pitchforks in those stacks and call this needle hunt done. Game over, tech sector. Peasants quit. Find for your own snails.

Anyone want my Smith Corona 210 Automatic? Sounds like a humming gun when plugged in for typing, but IBM’s Selectric frequencies are already known to NSA. Useless on silent missions unless folks think a fracking clacker isn’t suspicious. It’s almost comically loud when cracking off.

Anonymous Coward says:

The NSA seems to be hinting strongly that they intent to start bulk searching/analyzing, the contents of 200 million text messages per day. Attempting to find these so-called “gems”.

I doubt all those gems are going to be solely terrorist related. In fact, I fully expect the scope of these gems to only widen over time.

Eventually, encompassing those who disagree with the current administration’s views and policies. The history of the human race proves this fact to be self evident.

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