The National Security Agency gathers nearly five billion records a day on the location of mobile phones worldwide, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday (December 04), citing sources including documents obtained by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The records feed a database that stores information about the locations of "at least hundreds of millions of devices," the newspaper said, according to the top-secret documents and interviews with intelligence officials.
The report said the NSA does not target Americans' location data intentionally, but acquires a substantial amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic mobile phones "incidentally."
One manager told the newspaper the NSA obtained "vast volumes" of location data by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks globally and that serve U.S. mobiles as well as foreign ones.
U.S. intelligence agencies' extensive collection of telephone and Internet data has been subject to scrutiny since Snowden began leaking information in June showing that surveillance was far more extensive than most Americans had realised.
Facing a public outcry and concern that programs are targeting average Americans as well as international terrorism suspects, Republican and Democratic members of Congress are writing legislation to clamp down on the data collection and increase public access to information about it.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the NSA was not "deliberately" gathering bulk mobile phone locations.
"No element of the intelligence community is intentionally collecting bulk cell phone location information about cell phones in the United States. When conducting its overseas foreign intelligence mission, however, if NSA incidentally acquires information to, form or about a U.S person, such information must be handled in accordance with the proved minimization procedures to safeguard that information," said Carney.
Presented by Adam Justice