The NSA Collects Hundreds Of Millions Of Global SMS Messages Every Day

Another day, another NSA story involving dragnet surveillance of global communications. Out this morning in the Guardian is news of Dishfire, an NSA program that collects nearly 200 million text messages each day.

The program is notable for its scale, and what the Guardian quotes as its “untargeted” nature. It is not collecting the SMS notes of targets, but instead of apparently random individuals on a larger scale. The GCHQ, the United Kingdom’s NSA equivalent, can access the information, with some safeguards in place regarding its own citizens.

According to a GCHQ document, the program collects “pretty much everything it can,” making it likely a controversial effort. The program is broad enough that documents indicate that analysts are asked to constrain searches to no more than 1,800 phone numbers at a time.

Want to know if you are protected from Dishfire’s reach? Here you go:

The note warns analysts they must be careful to make sure they use the form’s toggle before searching, as otherwise the database will return the content of the UK messages – which would, without a warrant, cause the analyst to “unlawfully be seeing the content of the SMS”.

The note also adds that the NSA automatically removes all “US-related SMS” from the database, so it is not available for searching.

I’m sure you feel better. It is edifying to know that in the U.K., a whole user interface sits between your right to privacy and an analyst who might forget to click a button. At least the NSA deletes everything that it considers “US-related.” I feel secure.

The above story is almost boring. The NSA collecting billions of texts a month from untargeted sources? Heaven forbid it behave in a manner unbecoming of an international actor. What’s depressing is that our lackadaisical emotional response is unwarranted: we should be less happy than we are.

No one thinks that nations shouldn’t, or don’t spy. The current question instead is what is the proper backdrop for privacy in the digital age? The above implies a future of no privacy at all. That’s less than good, from my perspective.

President Barack Obama will speak to the issue on Friday. Tune in.

Top Image Credit: Flickr