NSA Collects Huge Troves of Cellphone Location Data

Washington Post: This might be the biggest threat to privacy yet

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 4, 2013 4:49 PM CST

(Newser) – The editor of the Guardian suggested that lots more Edward Snowden scoops are in the works, and, sure enough, the Washington Post obliges with what may be the biggest one yet. Its report says the NSA tracks the locations of hundreds of millions of cellphones around the world each day and stores a mind-boggling 5 billion records per day on their whereabouts. The story has the by-now familiar NSA caveat: It doesn't deliberately target Americans' locations—the intent is to track terrorists overseas—but some US citizens get "incidentally" caught up in the enormous sweep. Intelligence officials refused to estimate how many that might be. And for those who think disposable phones will protect them, those kinds of tactics tend to bring on greater scrutiny.

"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," write Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani in the Post. "Analysts can find cellphones anywhere in the world, retrace their movements and expose hidden relationships among individuals using them." The article quotes an ACLU technologist on that issue: “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," he says. "The only way to hide your location is to disconnect from our modern communication system and live in a cave.” Click for the full story, which introduces another NSA analytics program: CO-TRAVELER.

The Edward Snowden leaks continue.
The Edward Snowden leaks continue.   (AP Photo/The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras)
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