NSA Can Track Every Cell Phone in the World, Collects 5 Billion Records per Day
After months of stories exposing one controversial National Security Agency (NSA) program after another, perhaps the biggest shocker yet has come to light: that the agency is hauling in five billion cell phone records a day, and that it can track any such device in the world.
“In scale, scope and potential impact on privacy, the efforts to collect and analyze location data may be unsurpassed among the NSA surveillance programs that have been disclosed since June,” Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani reported for The Washington Post. “Analysts can find cellphones anywhere in the world, retrace their movements and expose hidden relationships among the people using them.”
“The government is tracking people from afar into confidential business meetings or personal visits to medical facilities, hotel rooms, private homes and other traditionally protected spaces,” added the reporters.
The billions of records collected daily are stored in “a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices,” according to the Post.
The program reportedly does not target Americans’ mobile phones. However, because of the sheer size of the surveillance effort, location data about their devices are nevertheless swept up and kept.
This information was gleaned from secret NSA documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden and from U.S. intelligence officials interviewed by the Post.
One senior NSA collection manager told the newspaper that “we are getting vast volumes” of location data from around the world by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks globally and that serve U.S. cellphones as well as foreign ones.
Administration officials insisted the programs that collect and analyze location data are legal and are only intended to spy on foreign targets.
But that claim does not reassure privacy proponents.
“One of the key components of location data, and why it’s so sensitive, is that the laws of physics don’t let you keep it private,” Chris Soghoian, principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Post.
He added that the only way a person can hide their cellphone location from the NSA is “to disconnect from our modern communication system and live in a cave.”
To Learn More:
NSA Tracking Cellphone Locations Worldwide, Snowden Documents Show (by Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani, Washington Post)
FASCIA: The NSA's Huge Trove of Location Records (Washington Post)
NSA Monitors the Phones of at least 35 World Leaders (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
NSA Director Alexander Uses Weasel Words to Avoid Details of Cell Phone Tracking Program (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)
New Jersey Supreme Court First to Order Warrants for Cell Phone Tracking (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)
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