Yes, The NSA Tracked Mobile Phone Locations, Despite Previous Semi-Denials

from the under-this-program dept

We had just talked about how Ron Wyden has been trying to pin the NSA down on whether or not it collected mobile phone location data, and how NSA officials continue to dance around the question by claiming "not under this program." Charlie Savage, over at the NY Times, now has an article about a "pilot program" the NSA did doing bulk collection of the location of Americans' mobile phones. The pilot program was run in 2010 and 2011. While the NSA eventually decided not to go forward with the program, they certainly did use it for a period of time. The existence of the program was apparently "recently declassified" by James Clapper -- but not actually revealed (neat trick!). Clapper had a "draft answer" ready about the program if he was asked about it, but with Feinstein carefully making sure Wyden couldn't ask too many questions, it appears the question never made it to the floor. Still, the NY Times received the draft answer, which according to them said:
“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,” the draft answer says, adding that the N.S.A. has 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.
Senator Wyden told the NY Times that this answer is not providing "the real story":
“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,” Mr. Wyden said.
I imagine there will be much more to come on this story.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2013 @ 12:18pm

    They always seem to lie, even to Congress, about what they're doing exactly, and if by some miracle, Congress wants to stop those programs - even then they don't stop using them - they merely change those program's names.

    NSA is despicable. Shut them down! It's the only real way to stop them. Since the government is complaining so much about the budget, cut the tens of billions of dollars NSA is receiving every year, and officially abolish the agency, and fire everyone in it.

     

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      annie, Oct 2nd, 2013 @ 9:10pm

      Re:

      Agree. If the government does not, then it cannot complain when the odium which currently infects the NSA spreads throughout the government.

      If that hasn't already happened.

      Obama the hopeless continues fiddling…

      Annie

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2013 @ 12:18pm

    New Law...

    Any Senator or Public official caught 'Fencing' for a department that is subsequently found abusing its authority shall be sentenced to lifetime in prison. No If's ands or buts, even if the head of the department were only to get a 1 year jail sentence, an elected official should receive a hefty & hearty slap across their general person for aiding and abetting any organization acting with any criminal intent. It is absolutely clear that the NSA is nothing more than a government run criminal organization. This problem is compounded by the fact that the 'elected' officials are protecting them.

    The intellectual dishonesty and dissonance is so utterly apparent that no action has been taken other than some "questions" amounts to nothing more than a parlor show at the expense of our Countries Integrity. Think about it and now you can understand the general lack of respect the rest of the World has for us now.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2013 @ 12:27pm

    Maybe NSA/whoever DID notify congress and continue under 215 or another program. His answer doesn't preclude that.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2013 @ 12:28pm

    there is only one way to view what the NSA is accused of being up to and that is that it has been up to everything you can think of and a few more that you haven't thought of yet! it makes no difference at all what it admits to, what it semi-admits to or what it denies. it has been doing the whole fucking lot! if it is told it must 'cease and desist', if it has all funding withdrawn and not re authorised, it will still carry on, just as all the other security agencies will! the person who is in charge of this will just ensure that the services go 'further underground', that all ops go 'black' and that money is siphoned off from somewhere else so sneakily, no one will suspect a thing, not even the most proficient of tax inspectors!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2013 @ 12:42pm

    before any locational data was collected using Section 215

    Why do you always like to add those caveats to the end of your sentences, Mr. Clapper?

     

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    Connor Clawson, Oct 2nd, 2013 @ 12:51pm

    At this rate, we may as well just interpret every denial as an admission.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2013 @ 12:55pm

    But this was pretty much already a given. It was handled the same way as previous questions asked by Senator Wyden. Wyden didn't just ask this question out of the blue. You can be just as sure this question was forwarded a week or so prior to this meeting as were the other ones. It's not like this question was likely to have come out of the blue unknown it was going to be asked.

    We can also be sure there was a reason why Senator Wyden asked this question. One he knew the answer to already but could not himself reveal. Just like the previous event where he had asked if the NSA spied on American emails and phone calls. He already knew the answer, had forwarded that he intended to ask it, and yet Clapper at the time 'Gave the least untruthful answer'.

    This follows the exact same pattern. Merely that Senator Wyden asked this question pretty much confirms it was being done.

    Somewhere in the carefully hidden bowels of the NSA, programs yet to be revealed, will I suspect provide verification that not only is the metadata on emails recorded but also the contents of each and every email all Americans send. It has been previously stated that the aim of the NSA is to record the totality of global communications... as in all of it.

     

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      Another Anomalous Coward, Oct 3rd, 2013 @ 9:18am

      Re:

      What the Senators ought to ask as a followup to each and every question to NSA/CIA/Homeland Security official is, "Was your last answer 100% truthful as any average American would understand the word 'Truthful'?"

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2013 @ 12:59pm

    AT&T already has their own database with 30+ years of customer metadata information. The NSA doesn't even need their own GPS database. The NSA can simply tap the AT&T employee sitting in the cubical next to him, and ask for AT&T's GPS metadata records.

     

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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
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    out_of_the_blue, Oct 2nd, 2013 @ 1:11pm

    So, WHY ELSE would you think location capability (plus GPS) is in those gadgets?

    It's not coincidence. The whole system -- "teh internets" too -- has tracking and spying intentionally built in from lowest levels.

    Step 1: Get people to buy the "cool" gadgets that are the very means of spying.
    Step 2: (Particularly mysterious to me: how DO they get suckers to fall for such obvious Big Brother purposes?????)
    Step 3: Profit!

    Just high-tech capitalism! The slaves PAY for their own chains!

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2013 @ 1:14pm

      Re: So, WHY ELSE would you think location capability (plus GPS) is in those gadgets?

      One of your neurons probably will miss the other one that just died.

       

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      Internet Zen Master (profile), Oct 2nd, 2013 @ 1:33pm

      Re: So, WHY ELSE would you think location capability (plus GPS) is in those gadgets?

      I dunno, maybe so that emergency services (like search & rescue or EMTs) can locate a person when they're in trouble?

      That said, GPS is a technological double-edged sword and able to be (and as we all know, has been) abused by the government.

      Does that mean we should all stop using GPS, entirely? This is just my personal opinion, but I don't think we should stop using a tool just because some people use it to cause harm to their fellow man.

       

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      Shadow Dragon (profile), Oct 2nd, 2013 @ 2:56pm

      Re: So, WHY ELSE would you think location capability (plus GPS) is in those gadgets?

      OOTB has schizophrenia.What else

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2013 @ 1:50pm

    We don't need to stop using GPS. We simply need to be able to control the GPS device inside the hardware we purchase.

    In other words, we need to be able to disable the GPS chip inside our smartphones, if we so choose, through hardware drivers.

    Unfortunately, as it currently stands every single hardware driver is proprietary. This means the smartphone controls user, and the user does not control the smartphone.

    We need to be in control of our own computing and hardware devices we paid for.

    Then we can turn the GPS chip on and off, allowing the hardware owner to choose when he/she wishes to use GPS functionality.

     

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      John Fenderson (profile), Oct 2nd, 2013 @ 1:56pm

      Re:

      Even better, we need to control what data is sent from our devices and to whom. Then it doesn't matter if GPS is on or not. Besides, most phones keep a history of GPS fixes, so technically, even if your GPS is off, that history can be obtained.

      On my phone, I do this with a firewall.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2013 @ 3:02pm

      Re:

      The cell phone GPS requirement won't be going away any time soon.

      (from the Enhanced 911 article on wikipedia)

      95% of a network operator's in-service phones must be E911 compliant ("location capable") by December 31, 2005. (Several carriers missed this deadline, and were fined by the FCC.

       

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    Anonymous, Oct 2nd, 2013 @ 4:09pm

    Was there any doubt?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2013 @ 5:16pm

    Probably not. There was an earlier comment that talked about giving users control over the GPS chip, though. Assuming it would make much of a difference to begin with (what with triangulation), the FCC would probably have a fit about a concept like that. Nothing says akward like a bunch of unidentifiable cellular 911 calls because the end user forgot to turn GPS back on.

     

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