Washington Post: NSA collecting nearly 5 billion cellphone location records per day
The National Security Agency is collecting nearly 5 billion records of cellphone users’ locations – including those of Americans – around the world each day, according to a Washington Post report citing top-secret documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and interviews anonymous U.S. intelligence officials.
The Post article described the cellphone data collection program as a “mass surveillance tool” that has allowed the NSA to “track the movements of individuals – and map their relationships – in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.”
“What this allows you to do is if you have a suspect or a foreign intelligence target or a terrorist or someone you’re interested in, you can enter that person’s information into the system and then identify any other people that might be physically located near them or traveling with them,” explained Ashkan Soltani, who co-authored the Post’s report. “And to do that, it needs the monitor the global network of cellphone information – people’s locations – to say, ‘Hey, you and this person were at coffee together and then 3 hours later you went to have lunch together and now you’re at the airport.’ It basically identifies new people that the NSA should target.”
And although the NSA is only authorized to gather foreign intelligence, the location data of “tens of millions of Americans” using cellphones abroad are also being collected by the agency.
The NSA is able to collect the location data even if the phone’s GPS feature is disabled.
“Just by virtue of being on, your cellphone basically emits signals that reveal its location,” Soltani pointed out. “When it’s looking for signals, when it’s trying to connect to the cellphone towers, it is essentially revealing its approximate location to the cell phone number and anyone who is able to tap into those system and collect those signals.”
News of the NSA’s cellphone location data collection is the latest in a series of disclosures by Snowden about the agency’s mass surveillance programs since June. Documents provided to journalists by Snowden have revealed the NSA’s bulk collections of telephone metadata, Internet communications, and wiretapping of communications of foreign leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. These disclosures have raised serious concerns about privacy and civil liberties of U.S. persons and strained relations between the United States and its European allies.
- WashingtonPost.com: NSA tracking cellphone locations worldwide, Snowden documents show
- WashingtonPost.com: Video of interview with Ashkan Soltani on NSA’s collection of cellphone location data
- WashingtonPost.com: NSA Secrets
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Category: Civil Rights, Current Events, Feature, Government, Intelligence Community, International, News, Technology, U.S. · Tags: Ashkan Soltani, cell phone, civil liberties, counter-terrorism, Director of National Intelligence, Edward Snowden, FISA, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, intelligence, International, metadata, national security, National Security Agency, NSA, phone records, privacy, terrorism, terrorist, terrorists, U.S., United States, Washington Post