NSA Admits Bulk Collection of Cell Phone Location Data, But Don’t Worry, This Was Only a Test

October 3rd, 2013


Via: New York Times:

The National Security Agency conducted a secret pilot project in 2010 and 2011 to test the collection of bulk data about the location of Americans’ cellphones, but the agency never moved ahead with such a program, according to intelligence officials.

The existence of the pilot project was reported on Wednesday morning by The New York Times and later confirmed by James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. The project used data from cellphone towers to locate people’s cellphones.

In his testimony, Mr. Clapper revealed few details about the project. He said that the N.S.A. does not currently collect locational information under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the provision the government says is the legal basis for the N.S.A.’s once-secret program under which it collects logs of all domestic calls from telephone companies.

“In 2010 and 2011, N.S.A. received samples in order to test the ability of its systems to handle the data format, but that data was not used for any other purpose and was never available for intelligence analysis purposes,” Mr. Clapper said.

He added that the N.S.A. had promised to notify Congress and seek the approval of a secret surveillance court in the future before any locational data was collected using Section 215.

An official familiar with the test project said its purpose was to see how the locational data would flow into the N.S.A.’s systems. While real data was used, it was never drawn upon in any investigation, the official said. It was unclear how many Americans’ locational data was collected as part of the project, whether the agency has held on to that information or why the program did not go forward.

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