NSA collecting 200m texts a day


by Ben Sullivan| 17 January 2014

GCHQ then trawls the metadata to target UK citizens.

The National Security Agency has been collecting almost 200 million text messages a day from around the world.

Using the data to extract location information, contact networks and credit card details, the latest Snowden revelations uncovered by a joint Guardian newspaper and Channel 4 news investigation also show an ongoing effort by GCHQ to collect "untargeted and unwarranted" communications belonging to UK citizens.

The program, codenamed 'Dishfire' trawls "pretty much everything it can", as stated in GCHQ documents.

The data has been used to extract details about travel plans, contact books, financial transactions and to snoop on people suspected of illegal activity.

The evidence comes in the form of an NSA presentation from 2011, titled "SMS Text Messages: A Goldmine to Exploit". It reveals that in April of that year, 194 million text messages a day were collected. A further program, called "Prefer", then went on to analyse the data collected.

The presentation slides reveal that each day, the NSA could extract more than 5 million missed-call alerts, details 1.6 million border crossings, 110,000 names from e-business cards, 800,000 financial transactions and the geolocation of more than 76,000 texts a day.

In a statement to the Guardian, a spokeswoman for the NSA said any implication that the agency's collection was "arbitrary and unconstrained is false". The spokeswoman said that the agency's capabilities were directed only against "valid foreign intelligence targets" and were subject to stringent legal safeguards.

A GCHQ spokesman refused to comment on any particular matters, but said all its intelligence activities were in compliance with UK law and oversight.


Photograph: Guardian

In the UK, Vodafone has said it wants to take a stand against the snooping by asking British ministers and the governments in each of the 25 countries it operates in, for the right to publish the amount of customer information demands it receives for wiretapping and customer data.

"We want all of our customers worldwide to feel they are at liberty to communicate with each other as they see fit. We want our networks to be big and busy with people who are confident they can communicate with each other freely; anything that inhibits that is very bad for any commercial operator," said Vodafone's privacy head, Stephen Deadman.

Vodafone says British law currently prevents it from sharing even general information on wiretapping.

Yesterday, a new venture between encrypted communications company Silent Circle and a Spanish smartphone startup Geeksphone announced their plans to release the Blackphone, am NSA-proof Android smartphone capable of sending and receiving encrypted information.

Based in Switzerland, the pair plans to collaborate on a number of devices, with the Android-powered namesake device Blackphone to be its first product.

"Blackphone is the world's first smartphone which prioritises the user's privacy and control, without any hooks to carriers or vendors. It comes preinstalled with all the tools you need to move throughout the world, conduct business, and stay in touch, while shielding you from prying eyes."

The project also involves the creator of encrypted communications program Pretty Good Privacy, Phil Zimmermann.

"I have spent my whole career working towards the launch of secure telephony products," he says in a press release on the Blackphone website.

"Blackphone provides users with everything they need to ensure privacy and control of their communications, along with all the other high-end smartphone features they have come to expect."

The website goes on to say that: "It has the features necessary to do all the things you need, as well as all the things you want, while maintaining your privacy and security and giving you the freedom to choose your carrier, your apps, and your location.

"The tools installed on Blackphone give you everything you need to take ownership of your mobile presence and digital footprints, and ensure nobody else can watch you without your knowledge.

"You can make and receive secure phone calls; exchange secure texts; exchange and store secure files; have secure video chat; browse privately; and anonymize your activity through a VPN."

Post a comment

Comments may be moderated for spam, obscenities or defamation.
Privcy Policy

We have updated our privacy policy. In the latest update it explains what cookies are and how we use them on our site. To learn more about cookies and their benefits, please view our privacy policy. Please be aware that parts of this site will not function correctly if you disable cookies. By continuing to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy unless you have disabled them.