NSA collects 5 billion cell location records a day, Snowden leaks say

NSA collects 5 billion cell location records a day, Snowden leaks say

Summary: New leaks showing the scale of the U.S. government's cell location tracking efforts include how the NSA can track an individual's movements.

TOPICS: Security
(Image: Washington Post)

The U.S. National Security Agency is gathering close to 5 billion records a day on cellular devices around the world, allowing the agency to track individual's movements.

New documents leaked by former U.S. government contractor Edward Snowden lift the veil on the U.S.' location tracking for the first time.

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NSA mass surveillance leaks: Timeline of events to date

NSA mass surveillance leaks: Timeline of events to date

Updating timeline coverage from ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News of the NSA's mass surveillance leaks.

First reported by The Washington Post on Wednesday, the records flow into a vast database that can store the location of "at least hundreds of millions of devices," according to the documents. 

While the secret intelligence agency does not intend to target Americans' location by default, the Post reports that a substantial amount of domestic data is "incidentally" recorded. This, according to other documents, stems from a legal term that describes in possible and foreseeable, but not deliberate data collection. Such data is also collected on tens of millions Americans who travel abroad with their devices each year.

The data is then processed by a secret program, dubbed CO-TRAVELER, is a powerful analytics tool that allows the net of suspects to be widened by connecting known targets with new unknown associates. The program tracks hundreds of millions of people worldwide, including the hospitals they visit and the location of business meetings, the Post reports.

Exactly how this occurs on a technical level is relatively unknown. Ten major signals intelligence "designators" around the world allow the mass data collection. In one example, previously outed program STORMBREW relies on two unnamed corporate partners, dubbed ARTIFICE and WOLFPOINT, which house the NSA's interception equipment.  

STORMBREW collects data from 27 telephone links that includes tower identifiers, which can be used to trace and triangulate where a cell device, such as a cellphone, smartphone, or tablet, is located on a map.

The NSA is understood to keep about 1 percent of the records — some 27 terabytes, according to the documents — but it's enough for other internal NSA reports to concern the agency with its inability to "ingest, process and store" data.

Topic: Security

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  • It's worse than what Orwell predicted

    Five billion movements a day?

    There are only 5 billion people on planet earth.

    The NSA is basically watching everybody's movements. All the time. Every time your cellphone moves from one tower to the next, the NSA is watching you.

    Why didn't they let the people of the United States know that this is what they are going to do? Why are they afraid that everyone will find out what they're doing?
    • So they don't get fired!

      The answer to "Why didn't they let the people of the United States know that this is what they are going to do? Why are they afraid that everyone will find out what they're doing?" is easy.

      The NSA know it's wrong.
      They know if it was anyone else but them it would be illegal.
      They know it's against the fundamental rights of every citizen of a democracy on earth!

      They are too scared for the citizens to find out because the US taxpayer funds their operations, and the same democratic process that allowed the NSA to be setup can just as easily dismantle the whole organisation.

      All you need is enough politicians to use dismantling the NSA as a platform agenda, and it's gone.

      Having said that those same politicians will just call it something different, adjust the scope, adjust the funding, maybe lose a few people from the team, and there you go: the NSA is back up and running again.
  • How easily they can track?

    With the s..tstorm of white noise x billions they would be lucky to track their butts... don't forget, these sheeple are not the sharpest needles in the haystack complex...
    • They'll get a Five-Eyed monster to track you

      What people forget is that the Five-Eyed-Monster nations exchange surveillance data.

      They each track each other's populations, in order to sidestep laws that stop them tracking their own populations. Then they share the personal profiles with each other.

      Even a 'dumb phone' or $10 'feature phone' will be tracked by triangulation between three transmission cells, which will give them a pretty good idea of where you have traveled, and the patterns of your movements over time.
  • how to defend against the NSA

    Just generate masses of bogus data - the only defense we still have is to generate tons of rubbish that's undecodable.
    Mutley Dastardly
    • No need.

      There is no system conceivable that would not already have them chase after loads of bogus leads with this amount of data. Only problem is that those bogus leads are innocent people...
    • Key

      This is key. Bogus data is made to look really important and the real data is made to look harmless. No matter how deep the spying, the cryptography is what makes the difference. So, in essence, the amount of spying they do is meaningless in the big picture. The question is how well they can untangle and interpret the data. Good luck.