The NSA admitted that it can track people’s location through their cell phone, surprising people more with the admission than the technical capability. Of course, the agency claims that it doesn’t use this capability, the AP reports, but not many people are willing to take such assertions on faith.


NSA tracking people’s location

National Security Agency chief General Keith Alexander testified in front of Congress on Wednesday, saying that the NSA had conducted tests in 2010 and 2011 to see if it could track people’s location using cell phone data, and then shared the results with congressional intelligence committees. He and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper were defending NSA actions while Congress considers reigning in what much of the public sees as widespread abuses of power.

“We only work within the law,” Clapper said. “On occasion, we’ve made mistakes, some quite significant. … whenever we found such mistakes, we’ve reported, addressed and corrected them.”

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

Some might take issue with that statement, pointing out that those ‘mistakes’ were outside the law, but the bigger issue is whether or not existing law is appropriate. Critics say the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is too broad and doesn’t provide effective oversight. Senator Ron Wyden asked Alexander about the use of cell phone data to locate people in a hearing last week and was told that the matter was classified.

“After years of stonewalling on whether the government has ever tracked or planned to track the location of law-abiding Americans through their cellphones, once again, the intelligence leadership has decided to leave most of the real story secret – even when the truth would not compromise national security,” Wyden said at the time.

Alexander denied accusations that the NSA is mining social media to build a graph of American’s relationships, just in case they decide to use it in the future. He acknowledged using social media to track terrorists, but says that the agency doesn’t use the same tactics against Americans, much as the NSA long claimed that it does not use its capabilities to collect other types of data on U.S. citizens, claims we now know to be untrue.