The NSA is reportedly scraping through around 200 million text messages a day as part of its "Dishfire" program, according to The Guardian. Edward Snowden allegedly fed even more information to the publication, claiming government officials are analyzing "untargeted" texts in an effort to keep tabs on suspected terrorists activity. Once the texts are collected—by a separate group called "Prefer"—a detailed report is then provided to the NSA. Snowden's information allegedly comes by way of an internal NSA presentation calling SMS messages a "goldmine."
Through the Dishfire program, the NSA pretty much has access to whatever information it wants, including names, numbers, images and more. That means texts can reveal financial transactions, calendar information and anything else you're sending to friends and family. Even missed calls, SIM card info, and passwords are supposedly being collected. Basically, if you own a phone, and you text, the NSA knows about it, and can collect and analyze whatever's going on during your day-to-day. Now whether you're interesting enough for the NSA to take any real interest is another matter.
According to information provided to The Guardian, documents suggest information collected within the U.S. is eventually removed. But data gathered on targets overseas is stored for much longer, because the agency is "focused and specifically deployed against—and only against—valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements," an NSA spokesperson said. The documents are vague on just how big the NSA's database of information is, but it probably isn't small. The Guardian said that the NSA told analysts to keep searches below 1,800 numbers, which gives you an idea of the scale.
President Obama is scheduled to give a speech on public surveillance on Jan. 17, when he will talk about making changes to the NSA and its practices. When you consider just how comprehensive the program is—collecting phone records, tapping into computers not on Wi-Fi, etc.—making changes will certainly be a big ask. Is the government really committed to making changes because it feels it's the right thing to do, or because it got caught? I wonder what other information Snowden has up his sleeve.