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January 16, 2014 3:50 PM The Latest Reason Not To Text While Driving—Or Not Driving

By Ed Kilgore

This revelation from the Guardian’s James Ball should surprise no one, but it’s probably unwelcome to the president the day before his announcement of measures to deal with the National Security Agency’s surveillance program:

The National Security Agency has collected almost 200 million text messages a day from across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks and credit card details, according to top-secret documents.
The untargeted collection and storage of SMS messages - including their contacts - is revealed in a joint investigation between the Guardian and the UK’s Channel 4 News based on material provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The documents also reveal the UK spy agency GCHQ has made use of the NSA database to search the metadata of “untargeted and unwarranted” communications belonging to people in the UK.
The NSA program, codenamed Dishfire, collects “pretty much everything it can”, according to GCHQ documents, rather than merely storing the communications of existing surveillance targets.
The NSA has made extensive use of its vast text message database to extract information on people’s travel plans, contact books, financial transactions and more - including of individuals under no suspicion of illegal activity.

Anyone within the NSA’s purview who thought texting someone rather than emailing or calling would avoid the Big Eye in the Sky was chewing up his or her data plan without success, though messages from U.S. phone numbers were apparently deleted from the database.

I’m guessing there’s some scrambling going on in the White House speechwriting shop.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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