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Nearly 200 million text messages are collected by NSA every day- report

January 16
9:37 PM 2014

In what is termed as an "untargeted" global collection effort, the US National Security Agency gets and stores close to 200 million text messages each day, VentureBeat reported citing media outlets Guardian and Channel 4 News in the UK as the source of the news. The information was taken from a material given by Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower given during an internal agency presentation three years ago. That presentation called SMS text messages as a "goldmine to exploit."

The operation to collect SMS text messages is called "Dishfire." Instead of gathering data from its surveillance targets, one of the documents said the agency just gets what it can from the messages.

A program called "Prefer" is used by the NSA to conduct an automated analysis of the SMS metadata. Because its text message database is so vast, NSA is able to get information on various things, like location, financial transactions, contact networks and others. For instance, an average day enables the agency to get details on 1.6 million border crossings through network roaming alerts, the report said.

The documents seemed to indicate that conversations from American phone numbers are taken out from the database. However, those from overseas remained recorded. The report said that for agencies like GCHQ which is reported to have full access to the database, this makes for a rich resource. GCHQ is a spy agency in the UK which is said to use the database to ask queries in order to look into the metadata of those living in the UK.

The report quoted what appeared in a leaked document as saying, "You can... run queries prior to targeting a number, as the content may give you an idea of how useful the number will be."

According to the report, the GCHQ does not need to file a request with its government to be able to get information since NSA is as foreign entity. UK's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act does not cover access to foreign intelligence, the report said.

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