NSA spied on Britons as it reaped 200m text messages a day

GCHQ made use of massive text database collected by 'Dishfire' program, according to latest Snowden leaks

(Image credit: Getty Images)

PRESIDENT OBAMA is under increased pressure to curb NSA surveillance after it was revealed today that the US intelligence agency has been collecting 200 million text messages a day from across the globe.

The text messages, which are gathered by a program codenamed 'Dishfire', are used to identify people's travel plans, contact books, financial transactions and more.

Dishfire does not discriminate between the messages sent by those under surveillance and people who are under no suspicion of illegal activity. It "sweeps up pretty much everything it can", The Guardian reports.

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The latest revelations about NSA mass surveillance - which are based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden and reported by the Guardian and Channel 4 News - come at an awkward time for the US government. President Obama will today announce his response to a White House review of the agency's practices which will "aim to restore public confidence in the intelligence community", the BBC says.

That job has been made even harder by today's revelations that the NSA engaged in the "untargeted collection and storage of text messages", including details of the recipients.

There will be discomfort in Whitehall too because the Snowden documents reveal that Britain's spy agency, GCHQ, made use of the Dishfire database. UK agents searched the metadata of "untargeted and unwarranted" communications belonging to people in the UK, the Guardian says.

Text messages collected by Dishfire were analysed by a second program known as Prefer, the Guardian says. It uses automated text messages such as missed call alerts or texts sent with international roaming charges to extract information, which the NSA describes as "content-derived metadata". An NSA document explains that "such gems are not in current metadata stores and would enhance current analytics".

The Dishfire revelations will make President Obama's efforts to assuage public fears about surveillance considerably more difficult, says the BBC. As part of today's announcement the president is expected to install a public advocate at the secretive court that approves intelligence collection. At present, only the US government is represented at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).

The BBC says Obama is not expected to endorse one of the panel's headline recommendations - moving the storage of phone records from the NSA to the telecommunications company or a third party where it can be queried under limited conditions.

The BBC's North American editor Mark Mardell says Obama is unlikely to satisfy either the intelligence community or critics of mass surveillance. "As so often, [President Obama's] liberal instincts may be at war with his perceived duty as commander in chief - and he may be doomed to disappoint many on both sides of the debate," he writes.

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