WASHINGTON, December 4 (RIA Novosti) – The United States is collecting nearly 5 billion records every day on the location of cell phones throughout the world in a massive effort to track individuals’ movements across the globe, the Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing classified documents disclosed by US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.
US officials said the collection effort is aimed at gathering intelligence about foreign targets, but the US National Security Agency also gathers data from tens of millions of US citizens who take their cellphones abroad every year, according to the report.
The data-gathering, the Washington Post reported, is perhaps the most expansive NSA surveillance program revealed to date in documents leaked by Snowden, a former contractor with the agency who became the focus of international attention over the summer after he disclosed classified evidence of US electronic spying efforts.
The leaks have sparked a global firestorm over the NSA’s massive collection of data on private individuals in the United States and abroad.
Most of the data about cell phone locations gathered by the NSA is not believed to be directly related to individuals who represent a threat to national security, but it can help US intelligence map potential human networks of targets, the Washington Post reported.
Because cell phones transmit information about their locations even when they are not being used for calls or text messages, the NSA can track them into private locations such as homes and hotel rooms, according to the report.
Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA, was quoted by the Washington Post as saying that “there is no element of the intelligence community that under any authority is intentionally collecting bulk cell phone location information about cell phones in the United States.”
According to one estimate, the size of the data being stored under the program is 27 tetrabytes, or more than twice the amount of text in the print collection of the US Library of Congress, the newspaper reported.
Snowden fled to Hong Kong and then to Moscow, where he was granted temporary asylum in Russia in August despite repeated extradition demands from the United States, where he is wanted on espionage-related charges. He is now living at an undisclosed location in Russia.