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Documents handed over to The Guardian newspaper by Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower, reveal that the US has been collecting some 200 million text messages from around the world every day.
The latest revelations indicate that the NSA’s global spying scheme is far wider and intrusive than analysts had previously believed.
“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,” the Guardian, in cooperation with the UK’s Channel Four, said Thursday.
The published report could put US President Barack Obama in a more complicated situation as he prepares on Friday to announce modifications to the NSA’s surveillance programmes
Obama has been on the defensive since Snowden leaked documents which showed that Washington had been spying on telephone communications of even its strongest allied leaders. Germany, France, and Brazil are among a number of countries which have pressed Obama to take action to curb what they say is illegal spying on domestic affairs.
Obama in September promised world leaders to review the NSA spying regimen and implement changes.
The SMS-collecting programme, known as Dishfire, picks up contacts in missed calls and also accumulates travel, financial and business information.
The leaked documents could put even more pressure on Snowden to work with authorities in a number of countries who have sought his access to learn just how much of the US spying programme he can reveal.
In December, in an open letter to the Brazilian people, Snowden offered to help authorities there investigate Washington’s global espionage programme, on the condition he be granted asylum.
In September, the Foreign Relations Committee of Brazil’s House of Representatives unanimously adopted a measure that would allow it to send its members to Russia to meet Snowden.
The Brazilian Senate is probing claims the NSA monitored emails and intercepted phone calls of President Dilma Rousseff and several of her top aides.
Snowden’s letter, however, indicated that fear of pursuit by US authorities, which consider him a felon and wanted fugitive, impeded his willingness to work with Brazilian investigators.
“A lot of Brazilian senators have asked me to collaborate with their investigations into suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens. The American government will continue to limit my ability to speak out until a country grants me permanent political asylum,” the letter said.
Russia granted Snowden temporary asylum in late July.
Rousseff has previously called the NSA surveillance program “economic espionage”, saying reports of intercepted communication of state-oil giant Petrobras have belied US claims of the PRISM programme being directed to thwart terrorism.
In November, Rousseff and German Chancellor Angela Merkel successfully drafted a “right to privacy” resolution, which was passed by the UN Rights Committee.