After The Guardian reported that only 1 percent of the files leaked by Edward Snowden have been published, the Washington Post reported that the NSA also tracks location data from mobile phone users around the world, allowing the agency to gather “nearly 5 billion records a day.”
The NSA is able to do that because it manages to tap into the mobile networks’ cables that happen to serve worldwide cellphones as well as U.S. phones. The NSA does that to collect information regarding its targets.
With this data in its power, the NSA locates and analyzes data from cellphones anywhere in the world. This represents an effort that might have no matching historical precedent since analysts can use this data to retrace cellphones’ movements and uncover potential relationships among users anywhere.
Elements of the intelligence community are not collecting the bulk cellphone location data intentionally, according to Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA. But the NSA collects this information anyway, mainly because one of the agency’s most powerful analytic tools, the CO-TRAVELER, can search unknown associates of intelligence targets by tracing intersecting cellphones.