NSA tracks billions of cellphones every day : worldleaks
America’s secretive National Security Agency is gathering nearly five billion cell phone records a day about the precise locations of individuals, including non-US citizens, a media report said on Thursday. The startling revelations by The Washington Post are based on the classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden, a former CIA contractor who is currently on an asylum in Russia.
According to the daily, the NSA does not target Americans’ location data by design, but the agency acquires a substantial amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic cellphones “incidentally”, a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not knowing the result.
One senior collection manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity but with permission from the NSA, told The Post “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 US cellphones as well as foreign ones. Additionally, data are often gathered from the tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad with their cellphones every year, the official said.
US officials said the programs that collect and analyze location data are lawful and aimed strictly to develop intelligence about foreign targets, the daily reported. According to Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA, “there is no element of the intelligence community that under any authority is intentionally collecting bulk cellphone location information about cellphones in the United States.”
Noting that the NSA has no reason to suspect that the movements of the overcoming majority of cellphone users would be relevant to national security, the daily said the agency collects locations in bulk because its most powerful analytic tools known collectively as CO-TRAVELER allow it to look for unknown associates of known intelligence targets by tracking people whose movements intersect.
“Still, location data, especially when aggregated over time, are widely regarded among privacy advocates as uniquely sensitive. Sophisticated mathematical techniques enable NSA analysts to map cellphone owners’ relationships by matching their patterns of movement over time with thousands or millions of other phone users who cross their paths. Cellphones broadcast their locations even when they are not being used to place a call or send a text message,” it said.
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