Thursday, December 05, 2013

The NSA knows where you are

The latest NSALeak: the NSA is tracking everyone's cellphone, all the time:

The National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, according to top-secret documents and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals — and map their relationships — in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.

The records feed a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices, according to the officials and the documents, which were provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. New projects created to analyze that data have provided the intelligence community with what amounts to a mass surveillance tool.

The NSA does not target Americans’ location data by design, but the agency acquires a substantial amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic cellphones “incidentally,” a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result.


In scale, scope and potential impact on privacy, the efforts to collect and analyze location data may be unsurpassed among the NSA surveillance programs that have been disclosed since June. Analysts can find cellphones anywhere in the world, retrace their movements and expose hidden relationships among individuals using them.

By "hidden relationship" they mean "being in the same building" or "being on the same bus" as a person of interest - which makes you a "co-traveller". In Pakistan, that's probably enough for a US drone to kill a bunch of children in your village.

There's information on the technical details here. Naturally, it relies on the cooperation of phone companies, whose data-sharing with each other enables the NSA to spy on everyone just by compromising a few providers. I expect some national legislatures (e.g. the European Parliament) will be asking their telecoms companies very pointy questions about that in the near future, and what can be done to protect privacy while also enabling global roaming.

And again, there's the obvious question: does the GCSB do this here? Or do they merely enjoy access to data gained by the NSA through the compromise of the international telecommunications network? Either way, its an unprecedented level of spying, and one our government should be protecting us from, not enabling in secret.