NSA defends global cellphone tracking as legal (Update)

December 6, 2013 by Kimberly Dozier

The National Security Agency on Friday said its tracking of cellphones overseas is legally authorized under a sweeping U.S. presidential order. The distinction means the extraordinary surveillance program is not overseen by a secretive U.S. intelligence court but is regulated by some U.S. lawmakers, Obama administration insiders and inspectors general.

Documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that the NSA gathers as many as 5 billion records every day about the location data for hundreds of millions of cellphones worldwide by tapping into cables that carry international cellphone traffic. The Washington Post said the collection inadvertently scoops up an unknown amount of U.S. data as well.

The NSA said Friday it was not tracking every foreign phone call and said it takes measures to limit how much U.S. data is collected. The NSA has declined to provide any estimates about the number of Americans whose cellphones it has tracked because they were traveling overseas or their data was irrevocably included in information about foreigners' cellphones.

"It is not ubiquitous," NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said in a statement. "NSA does not know and cannot track the location of every cell phone."

Vines said the collection of the global cellphone location data is carried out under the White House order that governs all U.S. espionage, known as Executive Order 12333. That means congressional committees and relevant inspectors general can oversee the program, but the secret court established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act would not.

A frequent justification for the NSA programs by President Barack Obama and top U.S. intelligence officials is that they are overseen by all three branches of government.

"The NSA claims its collection is incidental, but there is no question it's deliberately engaging in the mass collection of cell phone location data that it knows will inevitably sweep up information on a huge number of innocent Americans," said Catherine Crump, American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney, in a statement. "And, all of this is happening without any supervision by a court."

The NSA spokeswoman, Vines, said legal restrictions under the intelligence law still apply to the cellphone tracking. When NSA analysts realize they unintentionally collected an American's information, they would have to separate it when possible or wall it off from the other information, and limit who can access it and how long it is kept.

But an intelligence lawyer told the Post that when U.S. cellphone data are collected, the data are not covered by the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures.

"FISA authorization would be required for the intentional collection of domestic metadata," Vines said. "This activity is centered on overseas locations." She said no domestic NSA program gathers such geolocation data.

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11 comments

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Protoplasmix
1 / 5 (7) Dec 07, 2013
No, we didn't do that, or that, or that either.

Well, okay, we did, but it's perfectly legal, and it's our duty to lie about it.
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How is it that script kiddie hackers found their way into computers of the CIA, FBI, private government security firms, county law enforcement, etc., but nothing was mentioned about the NSA activities until Snowden came along? I'd have guessed Anonymous would've been all over the NSA like stink on poop... maybe it's the other way around?

The water
In Majorca
Don't taste like
What it ought to.
kochevnik
1 / 5 (5) Dec 07, 2013
Someone mentioned that everything Hitler did was also legal under nazi law
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Dec 07, 2013
That this stuff is legal is not the scary part. That more than two thirds of americans think it's perfectly fine is.
Protoplasmix
1.6 / 5 (7) Dec 07, 2013
That this stuff is legal is not the scary part. That more than two thirds of americans think it's perfectly fine is.

Indeed. But I question the 2/3 figure. Only slightly more than half of the eligible voters actually vote* – that's the scariest part! Unless the 2/3 figure is what a poll from Faux News says it is – then it must be true :)

*See: http://en.wikiped...lections
Tom_Andersen
1.6 / 5 (7) Dec 07, 2013
What a silly statement. Legal in the US, not legal in France, Germany plus every other country where they actually spy.

This for instance means that if some NSA director shows up in another country, they can jail him/her for spying. Or their bosses.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Dec 07, 2013
That this stuff is legal is not the scary part. That more than two thirds of americans think it's perfectly fine is.
"Anger increased following allegations that the phone of German chancellor Angela Merkel had been monitored while it, France and Spain have also expressed outrage at claims of mass surveillance of its citizens... But a GCHQ report, leaked by the former CIA contractor, reveals that the three, along with Sweden, have all developed the capabilities to tap in to fibre optic cables that allow for mass monitoring of internet or phone activities.

The report even appears to praise Germany and France for their work, it is claimed."

-Hypocrite.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Dec 07, 2013
What a silly statement. Legal in the US, not legal in France, Germany plus every other country where they actually spy.
No its not.

"Germany's foreign intelligence bureau collaborated with the U.S. National Security Agency to carry out a massive Internet surveillance program on German citizens, reported Der Spiegel.

"According to the German magazine, top secret documents obtained from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden indicate that the U.S. gave the German foreign intelligence agency, Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), access to its surveillance program dubbed "XKeyscore."

-Youre a liar.
Tom_Andersen
1.5 / 5 (8) Dec 07, 2013
What a silly statement. Legal in the US, not legal in France, Germany plus every other country where they actually spy.
No its not.

OK you think Germany is ok with it on some level (I don't). What about Putin? Or China? Or Switzerland?
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Dec 07, 2013
What a silly statement. Legal in the US, not legal in France, Germany plus every other country where they actually spy.
No its not.

OK you think Germany is ok with it on some level (I don't). What about Putin? Or China? Or Switzerland?
Ok? You didnt say ok you said legal. Which apparently it is.
Tom_Andersen
2 / 5 (4) Dec 08, 2013
What a silly statement. Legal in the US, not legal in France, Germany plus every other country where they actually spy.
No its not.

OK you think Germany is ok with it on some level (I don't). What about Putin? Or China? Or Switzerland?
Ok? You didnt say ok you said legal. Which apparently it is.

Legal is not the same as authorized by the Government or an agency of it. Governments do illegal things all the time.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Dec 08, 2013
What a silly statement. Legal in the US, not legal in France, Germany plus every other country where they actually spy.
No its not.

OK you think Germany is ok with it on some level (I don't). What about Putin? Or China? Or Switzerland?
Ok? You didnt say ok you said legal. Which apparently it is.

Legal is not the same as authorized by the Government or an agency of it. Governments do illegal things all the time.
So what makes you think this is illegal or not ok or otherwise frowned upon by whatever govt you think you are talking about?

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