I think it’s safe to say that at this point, if you have any sort of digital communication with friends, family, or colleagues, the NSA and GCHQ already know about it before it’s even happened.
Today, the Guardian and Channel 4 released a report claiming that the NSA has been sucking up nearly 200 million text messages a day in an effort to gather data on terrorist networks from around the world. The program, called Dishfire, has been in operation since early 2011, and even has the capability to root out users credit card information using nothing more than text alerts sent by the owner’s bank.
The GCHQ was quick to respond to the allegations in a statement to the Guardian:
“All of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with the strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate and that there is rigorous oversight.”
The NSA is able to extract significant amounts of information from these correspondences, including travel plans, contacts lists, and more. Other information gathered includes:
- Over 800,000 financial transactions, either through linking credit cards to phone users or text-to-text payments
- Details of 1.6 million border crossings a day, from network roaming alerts
- 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)
- Over 110,000 names from electronic business cards, which also included the ability to extract and save images
None of this is particularly surprising of course. In a post-Snowden world it’s simply safer to assume that they’re watching every corner of your digital life than not, so if you want to keep a secret safe I guess it’s time to dust off that old pen and pad and do things 1895-style with good old fashioned handwritten notes.
Sure, it might be a little slower than an instantaneous text message, but at least it’s safe.