If you have ever used a cellphone, which you have many times, the National Security Agency of the US has a record of it — possibly every time you made or received a call, or texted.
The agency collects 5 billion records of cellphone locations the world over every day, according to a report in The Washington Post, based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden.
These are records of geographical locations — where the calls originated or landed — and not of conversations that took place or text messages exchanged. The NSA accesses this data by tapping into the cables serving mobile networks around the world. It’s is legal, the report said. And it doesn’t track Americans. Not intentionally.
But foreign targets — in India, for example — are fair game.
The agency uses a bunch of analytic tools collectively called CO-TRAVELER to track unknown associates of known intelligence targets, terrorists and rival spies.
Even when not being used, a cellphone sends sends signals to nearby cellphone towers, revealing its location, unless it’s switched off. CO-TRAVELER tracks some of them.
The agency uses 10 major signals intelligence activity designators — “sigad”, in spy-speak — to collect this gargantuan amount of locational data from around the world.
One of them, codenamed STORMBREW, used two corporate partners who hosted NSA’s tracking equipment and provided “nicely” sought updates.
They were not identified.
The Washington Post, which has been reporting on NSA’s snooping based on Snowden’s leaks, said this collection of locational records was perhaps the largest.
“In scale, scope and potential impact on privacy, the efforts to collect and analyze location data may be unsurpassed among the NSA surveillance programmes that have been disclosed.”