THE NATIONAL SECURITY Agency (NSA) is gathering nearly five billion call records a day, allowing it to track the moments of mobile phone users across the world.
The Washington Post reports that the NSA gathers information about the locations of hundreds of millions of devices on a daily basis, according to both US officials and documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The agency collects this information and travel habit data to do what it calls “target development” – finding unknown associates of targets it already knows about.
This means that analysts can track phones from anywhere in the world, find out what movements their owners made and discover unknown relationships among the people using them.
US officials told the Washington Post that they do not collect phone locations on purpose, but that a large number are swept up “incidentally.”
Also, the NSA has no reason to believe that the vast majority of people it tracks are relevant, but collects locations in bulk because its most powerful analytic tools – known collectively as CO-TRAVELER – allows it to look for unknown associates of known targets by tracking people whose movements cross.
The chief lawyer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA, Robert Litt said “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.”
US officials say that the programs that collect and analyse this data are lawful and only exist to help develop intelligence about foreign targets.