I haven’t performed this debunking exercise in a while, but since I’m receiving outraged tweets and emails, I thought I’d dive in again.
Yes, The Guardian‘s James Ball posted a new Snowden-based revelation about the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations. And, yes, everyone’s freaking out about it.
Ball reports that NSA operations called DISHFIRE and PREFER collected nearly 200 million text messages per day in April, 2011. Specifically:
The National Security Agency has collected almost 200 million text messages a day from across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks and credit card details, according to top-secret documents. […]
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.
“Across the globe?” Sounds like literally everyone who uses text messages. Engage mass hysteria!
As always, as I read the article, I fully expected to see, in or around paragraph 12, some sort of mitigating information, but I kept an open mind. If this operation included U.S. text messages, this might be a serious problem. But then, at paragraph 14, there it was:
Communications from US phone numbers, the documents suggest, were removed (or “minimized”) from the database – but those of other countries, including the UK, were retained.
So, no. If you’re a U.S. Person, NSA doesn’t have your text messages. Likewise, this information was buried in other articles at TIME, C/net and so on. NBC News didn’t mention it at all.
What’s the harm in putting “except U.S. text messages” somewhere near the top? Clearly because it won’t generate the same short-attention-span, too-long-didn’t-read viral rocket sauce.
To be clear, this isn’t about endorsing the programs themselves. Instead, let’s just be clear about what’s being reported because, and I shouldn’t have to write this but it’s important to have an informed debate. Duh. Burying crucial information about U.S. Persons only helps to misinform too many participants in the debate, while fueling overblown indignation.
Adding… Charles Johnson at LGF noted via Twitter:
.@bobcesca_go And buried in the middle of the article we find: "GCHQ is not allowed to search through content of messages without a warrant"
— Charles Johnson (@Green_Footballs) January 17, 2014
And he’s right, of course.