October 3, 2013
New Claims Indicate NSA Involved In Cellphone Location Data Mining
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
In 2010 and 2011, the National Security Agency (NSA) tested a system that collected information about cellphone owners’ locations. The New York Times reported on this leaked program earlier this week and it was subsequently confirmed by James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. General Keith Alexander, the NSA’s director, said the NSA collected cellphone location data as a way to test the program, and not to gather intelligence or other information about Americans. He did leave the door open, however, to using the program in the future.
Leaked information from former contractor Edward Snowden has revealed the NSA is already working with top US tech firms to facilitate the flow of information to government servers as well as monitor and scan emails, phone records and other forms of communication. During his testimony, General Alexander denied allegations that the NSA had created social networks based on this collected information.
Last week the director of the NSA faced another senate committee where he dodged questions about the collection of location data from cellphone towers. On Wednesday Texas senator Ted Cruz asked if the NSA ever planned to collect this information as a counter-terrorism measure.
"I would just say that this may be something that is a future requirement for the country, but it is not right now, because when we identify a number, we can give that to the FBI,” answered Alexander, according to The Guardian. “When they get their probable cause [to justify obtaining the data] they can get the location data that they need."
Alexander also mentioned the NSA already collects this information on a case-by-case basis.
A source familiar with the location-gathering project says the NSA only tested the system to understand how data could be channeled from cell towers to their databases. This information, though collected, was never used as a part of an investigation. It’s not yet clear, however, how many American’s had their information collected as a part of this NSA experiment, if their information is still being held on these servers, or when the NSA plans to roll out this program.
In a statement following the hearing, Oregon senator Ron Wyden accused the NSA of not being completely honest about the program.
“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,” said senator Wyden.
General Alexander and Mr. Clapper also asked congress not to limit the NSA’s oversight based on the documents leaked by Snowden. Though it’s been said this information places national security at risk, Americans have become acutely aware over recent months as to what extent the government surveys them.
Both General Alexander and Mr. Clapper accused the media for misconstruing the Snowden leaks, though it was later discovered these men were also responsible for misconstruing the details about the test program to gather cellphone location data.
"Both of you have raised concerns that the media reports about the government's surveillance programs have been incomplete, inaccurate, misleading," said Patrick Leahy, chairman of the senate committee during the hearing. "But I worry that we're still getting inaccurate and incomplete statements from the administration."