The National Security Agency (NSA) is reportedly gobbling up text messages at the rate of nearly 200 million per day, from around the world —- and using them as a source of credit card details, among other information.

This news comes from The Guardian, continuing a string of reports based on the leaks of former contracter Edward Snowden. The paper describes a program, codenamed Dishfire, that gathers "pretty much everything it can," in the words of a document from the U.K. Government Communications Headquarters. That means the communications of people who aren't suspected of crimes, in addition to those of targeted suspects, are being hoovered up by the agency, which called text messages "A Goldmine to Exploit" in an internal presentation.

So what is the NSA mining from the world's texts? According to The Guardian, it's tracking "people's travel plans, contact books, financial transactions and more." A slide from the presentation on Dishfire breaks down how the NSA looks at people's financial footprints:

  • Credit card transactions: correlate credit cards to individuals
  • Money transfers (social networks) – phone to phone
  • Financial information tracks (account activity – bank transaction)

It adds up to 800,000 financial transactions a day entering the NSA's database. Information gleaned from U.S. phone numbers is said to have been removed, or "minimized."

This isn't the first we've heard of the NSA's interest in the world's financial system. When the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies submitted its report last month, some of the recommendations suggested activities beyond what's been revealed so far, for instance: "Governments should not use their offensive cyber capabilities to change the amounts held in financial accounts or otherwise manipulate the financial system." Though we've yet to hear specific stories of the NSA tampering with bank accounts or manipulating markets, it has been reported that the agency monitors financial transactions by accessing data from SWIFT (the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) and credit card companies (including Visa and Mastercard).

But this latest disclosure indicates a new level of intrusiveness, as the NSA is reportedly collecting people's financial information via communications sent from their personal phones.