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If you were curious: Yes, the National Security Agency is collecting and filtering text messages to the tune of 194 million a day. It's a collection of data that one agency slide, obtained by The Guardian from leaker Edward Snowden, called "a goldmine to exploit."

The Guardian details the NSA's text message collection infrastructure in a new report, including its massive scale. The slide at right shows how much data it and its British partners at the GCHQ are able to reel in.

  • The agencies collect 194 million messages a day.
  • They include 76,000 geocoordinates for users, thanks to people seeking directions or setting up meetings.
  • The agencies track 1.6 million border crossings and 5,000-plus occurrences in which someone is traveling.
  • They're able to link hundreds of thousands of financial transactions.
  • They collect over 5 million missed call alerts, which then get pushed into the "contact-chaining" system, building out the NSA's ad hoc social network.

The NSA isn't allowed to collect this information on Americans, and the documents don't indicate that the agency does. Everyone else in the world, not protected (however effectively) by the Fourth Amendment, is fair game — and as of 2011, the NSA nots in one slide, 77 percent of the world's population was using text communications.

Text messages were an inevitable target for the agency, of course, offering the informal speed of a voice communication but much simpler content filtering by automated systems. If you don't believe us, take it from the NSA. In one slide, it uses a smiley face to indicate how convenient it is that text messages link phone numbers to readable content.

These, the agency suggests, are "gems" that it otherwise wouldn't be able to access. Or, if you will, a goldmine.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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