US agency tracks global movements of people: Report

Washington, Dec 5: The US National Security Agency gathers nearly 5 billion cell phone records around the world every day to track the movements of individuals and map their relationships, according to the Washington Post.

The records feed a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices, the influential US newspaper reported Wednesday citing top-secret documents and interviews with US intelligence officials

“New projects created to analyse that data have provided the intelligence community with what amounts to a mass surveillance tool,” it said citing officials and documents provided by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, who has been given asylum by Russia.

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,” the Post said.

The Post citing officials said the NSA “collects locations in bulk because its most powerful analytic tools – known collectively as CO-TRAVELER – allow it to look for unknown associates of known intelligence targets by tracking people whose movements intersect.”

Since the NSA cannot know in advance which tiny fraction of one percent of the records it may need, the Post said “it collects and keeps as many as it can – 27 terabytes, by one account, or more than double the text content of the Library of Congress’s print collection.”

According to top-secret briefing slides, the NSA pulls in location data around the world from 10 major “sigads,” or signals intelligence activity designators, it said.

A sigad known as STORMBREW, for example, relies on two unnamed corporate partners described only as ARTIFICE and WOLFPOINT, the newspaper said.

According to an NSA site inventory, the companies administer the NSA’s “physical systems,” or interception equipment, and “NSA asks nicely for tasking/updates,” it said.

STORMBREW collects data from 27 telephone links known as OPC/DPC pairs, which refer to originating and destination points and which typically transfer traffic from one provider’s internal network to another’s, the Post said.

That data include cell tower identifiers, which can be used to locate a phone’s location.

“The NSA’s capabilities to track location are staggering, based on the Snowden documents, and indicate that the agency is able to render most efforts at communications security effectively futile,” the newspaper said.