Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

NSA Tracks Billions of Cell Phones Daily Overseas, Newspaper Says

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

NSA Tracks Billions of Cell Phones Daily Overseas, Newspaper Says

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- The National Security Agency tracks the locations of nearly 5 billion cell phones every day overseas, including those belonging to Americans abroad, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

The NSA inadvertently gathers the location records of "tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad" annually, along with the billions of other records it collects by tapping into worldwide mobile network cables, the newspaper said in a report on its website.

That means the NSA can track the movements of almost any cell phone around the world, and map the relationships of the cell phone user. The Post said a powerful analytic computer program called CO- TRAVELER crunches the data of billions of unsuspecting people, building patterns of relationships between them by where their phones go. That can reveal a previously unknown terrorist suspect, in guilt by cell phone-location association, for instance.

As the NSA doesn't know which part of the data it might need, the agency keeps up to 27 terabytes, or more than double the text content of the Library of Congress' print collection, the Post said. A 2012 internal NSA document said the volumes of data from the location program were "outpacing our ability to ingest, process and store" it, the newspaper said.

The program is detailed in documents given to the newspaper by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden. The Post also quotes unidentified NSA officials, saying they spoke with the permission of their agency.

Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, declined to comment on the report.

The DNI's general counsel, Robert Litt, has said that NSA does not intentionally gather bulk location data on U.S. cell phones inside the U.S. -- but NSA director Keith Alexander testified before Congress that his agency ran tests in 2010 and 2011 on "samples" of U.S. cell-site data to see if it was technically possible to plug such data into NSA analysis systems. …

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