If you think the NSA isn’t reading your text messages, you are sadly mistaken. Based on top secret data leaked by Edward Snowden, the NSA collects 200 million text messages a day from across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks, passwords and credit card details, etc. (Full document here.)
The NSA program, codenamed Dishfire, collects “pretty much everything it can”, according to documents from the UK spy agency GCHQ, rather than merely storing the communications of existing surveillance targets.
The NSA has tapped its vast text database to get info in people’s travel plans, contact lists, financial transactions and more — including people under no suspicion of illegal activity.
On average, each day 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.
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 agency’s capabilities were directed only against “valid foreign intelligence targets” and were subject to stringent legal safeguards, she said.
But Dishfire’s wide gap was lauded in released documents, which state the benefit of having this collected data on people who aren’t known targets of interests yet.
This begs another question: are wireless companies complying with the NSA? In 2012, Verizon Wireless, the largest carrier in the U.S., stated that they received approximately 270,000 requests for information from law enforcement. According to Verizon’s lawyer, these requests are accompanied by a warrant, court order, or a subpoena. 270,000 requests a year is a small number compared to 200 million a day.
As reported previously, Apple’s CEO called the NSA malicious hackers for creating “backdoors” on iPhones. Has the NSA created “backdoors” in wireless networks without companies knowing it?
This new revelation also proves that NSA spying is not just extracting bulk metadata, but personal content containing private information. Up to this point, courts were arguing that “metadata” does not apply to the 4th Amendment.