NSA is said to collect cellphone location data across the world

Privacy advocates say location data can reveal a lot about a person's activities

The U.S. is collecting nearly 5 billion records a day on the location of cellphones around the world to feed a large database of the location of "at least hundreds of millions of devices," according to a newspaper report.

Although the program does not target Americans' location data by design, the National Security Agency collects "incidentally" a substantial amount of information on the location of domestic cellphones, according to a report Wednesday in The Washington Post, which cited documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials.

The revelation tops other disclosures by Snowden through news reports, including claims that the NSA has access to phone records of U.S. citizens and the ability to access content on the servers of Internet companies in real time, and also taps into communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world.

The U.S. government has admitted to some of the programs, including the bulk collection of phone metadata. It has said that its analysis tools require the collection of data in bulk.

The Washington Post quoted a senior collection manager, speaking on condition of anonymity, who said the NSA was getting vast volumes of location data by tapping into cables that connect mobile networks globally and that serve U.S. cellphones as well as foreign ones, and from data often collected from the tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad with their cellphones every year.

"It is staggering that a location-tracking program on this scale could be implemented without any public debate, particularly given the substantial number of Americans having their movements recorded by the government," said Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, in a statement.

The location data can reveal a lot on people's political, professional, and intimate relationships, and flouts international obligations to respect the privacy of foreigners and Americans alike, Crump added.

The New York Times reported in October that the NSA conducted a secret pilot project in 2010 and 2011 to test the gathering of bulk data on the location of Americans' cellphones, but intelligence officials said the agency had not gone ahead with the program.

The surveillance by the NSA has drawn criticism from lawmakers and civil rights groups both in the U.S. and abroad. A United Nation's panel last month noted in a draft resolution that new technologies that increase the ability for surveillance, interception and data collection by governments, companies and individuals "may violate or abuse human rights, in particular the right to privacy."

The mainly symbolic resolution, approved without a vote, was co-sponsored by Brazil and Germany, both countries whose leaders were reportedly spied on by the NSA. The resolution would have the U.N. General Assembly call upon its members to review their surveillance procedures, practices and legislation to protect privacy.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags telephonytelecommunicationCarrierssecurityU.S. National Security Agencymobileprivacy

More about GoogleNational Security AgencyNSATechnologyYahoo

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by John Ribeiro

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place