NSA Harvests 5 Billion Cellphone Locations Worldwide Daily: Report
The bulk surveillance of vast numbers of cellphones "flouts our international obligation to respect the privacy of foreigners and Americans alike," said ACLU staff attorney Catherine Crump. "The government should be targeting its surveillance at those suspected of wrongdoing, not assembling massive associational databases that ... record the movements of a huge number of innocent people."
Every day, the United States National Security Agency collects nearly 5 billion cellphone location records worldwide, The Washington Post reported.
The information, obtained from documents released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, indicate the records are stored in the agency's FASCIA database.
Data on Americans' cellphones both in the U.S. and abroad is collected "incidentally," the NSA contended.
"There's no restriction on retention of this information that's collected about Americans or on the NSA's ability to search for Americans' data," Jake Laperruque, fellow on privacy, surveillance, and security at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told TechNewsWorld.
"So, even though they claim they got the information incidentally, there's no restriction that would stop them for searching for Americans in the database and pulling out the data in the future," he pointed out.
Peekaboo! We See You!
The NSA is getting location data by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks around the world, as well as from Americans who travel abroad with their cellphones, an NSA official reportedly said.
Or, it could be tapping into GPRS roaming exchanges, which interconnect mobile networks.
The data lets NSA analysts locate cellphones anywhere in the world, retrace their movements, and discover relationships among their users through sophisticated algorithms.
"The paths that we travel every day can reveal an extraordinary amount [of information] about our political, professional and intimate relationships," Catherine Crump, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Project on Speech, Privacy and Technology, told TechNewsWorld.
The NSA apparently is collecting so much location data that it cannot store and process it all. In response, the agency has been upgrading its processing system.
However, it's not alone: Britain's GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) aims to make every mobile phone on the planet a monitoring tool, Der Spiegel reported.
See No Evil...
The NSA has been circumspect about its collection of location-based data -- or any data -- about Americans.
President Obama previously denied reports that Americans' phone conversations and Internet browsing were being spied upon.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper in October confirmed the existence of a secret NSA pilot project to collect bulk location data about Americans' cellphones that ran from 2010 through 2011, following a New York Times report, but said the agency was not currently collecting location information under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
It's not clear whether cellphones have to be turned on in order for the NSA to track their location. By September 2004, the agency had developed a technique that let it locate cellphones even when they were turned off, according to Privacy International.
That capability is now available to Google and, possibly, Apple.
In Android 4.3, WiFi is always on by default, although it can be turned off if users know how.
"If we know anything about history, it's not what the NSA is doing with the data now, but what they might do with it in the future," Yasha Heidari, managing partner, Heidari Power Law Group, told TechNewsWorld.
Weapons of Mass Data Collection
The NSA and its contractors operate a vast collection of programs to collect, process, analyze, disseminate and store intelligence data.
"I think we're rapidly learning that the motto of the NSA is, 'Just because we can do something we will,'" Pete Ashdown, founder and CEO of XMission, told TechNewsWorld. "I don't think a lot of people realize the depth of data they're collecting or the implications."