Federal officials at the National Security Agency (NSA) collected almost 200 million text messages a day, according to a report based on material provided by former agency contractor Edward Snowden.
The Guardian reported on Thursday that the spy agency’s collection of information from phones around the world in a program known as Dishfire allowed it to extract credit card, location and contact data about people without a warrant.
In a 2011 top-secret NSA document, the agency called SMS text messages a “goldmine to exploit.” A similar document referred to content about text messages combined with automatic alerts for international network roaming or missed calls as “analytic gems.”
After the texts and other content were collected, an NSA program called Prefer conducted automatic analyses of the millions of messages to dig up details about people’s travel plans, financial transactions and other data.
The United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters has also accessed the database of information obtained through the collection effort to search the communications of people in the U.K.
Information about texts and other messages retrieved from American phones were deleted from the records database, The Guardian reported.
The report comes just a day before President Obama is scheduled to outline which measures he supports to reform the NSA.
Obama is expected to propose a series of changes to the spy agency's surveillance efforts in a speech at the Justice Department on Friday. He will likely call for increased privacy protections for foreign citizens, among other provisions.
But the president is also expected to give Congress the ultimate say on some of the more controversial surveillance efforts, such as the collection of information about almost all Americans’ phone calls.
The Guardian report was part of a joint investigation with the UK's Channel 4 News.