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A report based on Edward Snowden's leaked documents shows the NSA collects billions of cellphone records daily
December 4, 20139:00PM ET
The National Security Agency can track the location of millions of cellphones around the world, and collects 5 billion pieces of cellphone data from outside the U.S. daily, including from cellphones belonging to Americans abroad, according to a Washington Post report.
The newspaper says the NSA also "inadvertently" gathers some U.S. location records when it taps into worldwide mobile networks.
A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment on the report.
The Post report says that because the NSA doesn't know what cellphone data might be needed, the agency stores as much as it can. That amounts to 27 terabytes of data, or as the Post describes it "more than double the text content of the Library of Congress's print collection."
One internal NSA briefing shows that so much data is collected that the NSA has trouble processing and storing it in a timely manner. The NSA taps into the data by surveilling shared networks that cellphone companies use, according to the report.
"Many shared databases, such as those used for roaming, are available in their complete form to any carrier who requires access to any part of it," Matt Blaze, an associate professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania told the Post. "This 'flat' trust model means that a surprisingly large number of entities have access to data about customers that they never actually do business with, and an intelligence agency — hostile or friendly — can get 'one stop shopping' to an expansive range of subscriber data just by compromising a few carriers."
The NSA is also able to track activity it deems suspicious. For example, if a disposable cellphone is turned on only long enough to make phone calls, it is flagged in the NSA's system, the Post's report says. When devices next to each other are turned on or off around the same time, that can also raise a flag.