The NSA Records Up to Five Billion Cell Phone Locations Per Day

I’m not even sure I can be surprised at this point. Nothing shocks me anymore.

I guess this is the desensitization we must come to terms with in a post-Snowden world.

Earlier this morning, the Washington Post published a series of classified NSA documents and PowerPoint slides which suggest the agency has been tracking, downloading, analyzing, and storing the location information of citizens worldwide upwards of five billion times per day. Not per month, or year. Five billion every 24 hours. While you let that sink in, I’ll divulge more details.

The newly revealed program — which involves analytic tools collectively known as CO-TRAVELER — nabs location data, i.e., cell tower identifiers, by tapping into the cables that tie together mobile networks around the world. The Post mentions two corporate partners involved in the collection, which are identified in the Snowden documents only as ARTIFICE and WOLFPOINT.


“One of the key components of location data, and why it’s so sensitive, is that the laws of physics don’t let you keep it private,” people who value their privacy can encrypt their e-mails and disguise their online identities, but “the only way to hide your location is to disconnect from our modern communication system and live in a cave.”

The actual technical details of how the government has gained access to this information is still unknown, however many suspect the previously outed program, STORMBREW, might have something to do with it. SB is designed to pull call data and cellphone triangulation figures straight off the lines of 27 different provider’s cell towers.

The data is used to make connections with known associates to lesser known associates, translating movements and meeting spots into patterns and number the human analysts can you to piece together the puzzle.

In somewhat relieving news (although it’s all very unsettling), even the NSA themselves admit to keeping about 1 percent of everything that comes in on the record, or about 27 terabytes for the layman’s out there.