Washington (AFP) – The National Security Agency is collecting billions of records on the location of mobile phones around the world, The Washington Post reported, citing documents from U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.
The information is added to a gigantic database that shows the locations of “at least hundreds of millions of cell phones” worldwide, a stunning revelation that suggests the eavesdropping agency has created a mass surveillance tool, according to the Post report.
The report comes six months since the first bombshell leaks from Snowden, a former information technology subcontractor for the NSA who says he spilled secrets to spark public debate on the agency’s widespread surveillance activities.
Snowden faces espionage charges but has fled to Russia, where he has been granted asylum.
Of the NSA surveillance programs revealed to date, including spying on foreign leaders and the collection of Internet “meta-data,” the geo-location project appears to represent the agency’s largest in scale and scope.
The NSA declined to comment on the report when contacted by AFP.
The data is scooped up by tapping into cables that link mobile phone networks — both American and foreign — across the globe, the Post said. The location data is pulled in with the help of two unnamed corporate firms, according to leaked documents.
Information from the cell phones of Americans traveling abroad also forms part of the database.
As mobile phones broadcast their locations even when there is no call made or text sent, NSA analysts are able to use mathematical techniques to comb through location data and track patterns of movement over time for a given suspect, it said.
The analytic methods used by the agency to sift through location data are known as CO-TRAVELER, according to the report.