The US National Security Agency is collecting millions of "untargeted" text message from across the globe on a daily basis, according to a report from The Guardian.
An NSA program, codenamed Dishfire, collects and stores nearly 200 million global SMS messages a day, reported The Guardian on Thursday, citing documents provide by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden. The program reaches beyond existing surveillance targets and collects "pretty much everything it can," according to the report.
The NSA has extracted information such as "people's travel plans, contact books, financial transactions and more -- including of individuals under no suspicion of illegal activity," said The Guardian, which worked with UK's Channel 4 News on its investigation of the program.
UK spy agency GCHQ also made use of the NSA's text message database for "untargeted and unwarranted" searches of communications of people in the UK, according to the report. The documents suggest that some communications from US phone numbers may have been removed from the database, but not those of other countries, said The Guardian.
In addition to storing text messages in a database, the NSA developed a program known as Prefer that conducted "automated analysis" on the text messages. According to The Guardian, on an average day, the NSA was able to extract the following information from SMS messages:
• 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, an NSA spokeswoman said the Dishfire system processes and stores lawfully collected SMS data.
"As we have previously stated, the implication that NSA's collection is arbitrary and unconstrained is false," she said, according to The Guradian. "NSA's activities are focused and specifically deployed against -- and only against -- valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements."
The Guardian said the GCHQ would not respond to specific questions about Dishfire, but the agency said that its work is "carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate."
Revelations about Dishfire, as well as a report earlier this week about the NSA using radio wave to tap offline computers, are certainly putting pressure on President Obama as he gets set announces NSA reforms.
The president is expected to announce on Friday changes to the NSA based on recommendations from an NSA advisory panel. The panel, which was appointed by Obama in the wake of disclosures made this summer by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, has proposed stricter standards for NSA data searches and that a third party be responsible for storing phone records collected by the agency.