The National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting almost 5 billion records per day regarding the locations of cellphones worldwide, according to the report from the Washington Post based on information obtained from top-secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden and interviews from intelligence officials of the United States.

NSA

According to the report, the agency created new projects to analyze its huge database regarding the locations of at least hundreds of millions of cellphones and obtained a great number of surveillance tools.

NSA is not targeting Americans

The report indicated that the NSA is not targeting Americans, but “incidentally” obtained significant amounts of information regarding the locations of domestic cellphones from monitoring cellphone networks globally that support U.S. and foreign traffic. In addition, the agency also collected data from cellphones of Americans traveling overseas every year.

The NSA is “getting vast volumes” of location data around the world, according to an anonymous official who was given permission to speak about the issue. According to him, the agency gathers information by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks globally that serve domestic and foreign cellphones.

NSA emphasizes no tracking, but ACLU counters

U.S. officials emphasized that the program of the NSA is legal and it is only designed to collect information on foreign targets. Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence emphasized, “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.”

On the other hand, Chris Soghoian, principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union commented, “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.” According to him, those who value their privacy can encrypt their e-mails and disguise their online identities, but he emphasized, “the only way to hide your location is to disconnect from our modern communication system and live in a cave.”

A related report from Time quoted the opinion of ACLU Staff Attorney Catherine Crump regarding the issue. She said, “The dragnet surveillance of hundreds of millions of cell phones flouts our international obligation to respect the privacy of foreigners and Americans alike. The government should be targeting its surveillance at those suspected of wrongdoing, not assembling massive associational databases that by their very nature record the movements of a huge number of innocent people.”