How the NSA Tracks Mobile Phone Data

Last week the Washington Post reported on how the NSA tracks mobile phones worldwide, and this week they followed up with source documents and more detail.

Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani are doing some fantastic reporting on the Snowden NSA documents. I hope to be able to do the same again, once Pierre Omidyar's media venture gets up and running.

Posted on December 12, 2013 at 12:55 PM • 10 Comments

Comments

3.14December 12, 2013 3:50 PM

Bruce:
Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani are doing some fantastic reporting on the Snowden NSA documents.

Yes I think so too but why are parts of the source documents covered in this article you linked to:

New documents show how the NSA infers relationships based on mobile location data
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/...

I mean I would think that the original document that came through Snowden would not have had any redactions (because all his docos came from NSA through inofficial channels).

This brings to mind the statement made recently by the physicist Stanton Friedman to a question about whether there is a US government cover-up on UFOs. Friedman said that in those cases where you get a document pertaining to aliens from the government, most of the words on it have been covered with a marker. Only a handful of the words can be read. And so even if there are no "real" aliens there is at least a cover-up.

Covering and concealing just leads to more questions.

Bob S.December 12, 2013 6:08 PM

From WAPO:
" Fast Follower, was developed to allow the NSA to identify who might have been assigned to tail American case officers at stations overseas. By correlating an officer’s cellphone signals to those of foreign nationals in the same city, the NSA is able to figure out whether anyone is moving in tandem with the U.S. officer."

Workaround: "Hey Joe, while you are following that guy take the battery(ies) out of your stuff". We'll leave a fresh phone around at these places if you get any good data. Here's the code sheet, e.g. apple = spy, etc"

Is there any crook in the world who doesn't know to keep off the web for talking about, doing, planning a crime, or hanging around with associates?

They must be collecting total garbage for the most part already. OR, catching only the bad guys with IQ's under 60.

This is never going to stop either.

NEVER!

It seems the real purpose must be domination, control and intimidation of the honest populace.

How can any of this be legal or Constitutional?

Have they been able to deem themselves above ALL laws?

ps: it is a very well done piece by WAPO.

BryanDecember 12, 2013 6:48 PM

Many people with an IQ of 132 don't know tech. Sorry, but it's a knowledge issue, not brains.

NobodySpecialDecember 12, 2013 7:53 PM

@Bob S.
Spying on other spies spying on their spies while overseas would seem to be the one legitimate activity of the NSA.

Naturally they would never use this to trace the location of US citizens at home.

WinterDecember 13, 2013 7:33 AM

When reading this, I see a parallel between data collection of the Intelligence communities and pr0n collecting by young men:
Can there ever be enough?

Bob S.December 13, 2013 9:50 AM

@nobody special

Just guessing, but I would think spies spying on spies would know enough not to let themselves be tracked by spies.

There's a story on the NSA presidential panel just out...sounds like the pig may get some fresh lipstick.

A.U.TomatoDecember 13, 2013 11:22 AM

MEPs are inviting Snowden to answer question.

In my opinion they should ask these kinds of questions from the head of GCHQ, their own PMs, Obama, and the head of NSA. Something like that.

But since EU countries are secretly doing this surveillance with NSA, profiling their own citizens like NSA profiles Americans, real questions will not be asked from those sources.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/12/...

from the article:
Labour MEP Claude Moraes, the lead rapporteur for the European parliament inquiry on the mass surveillance of EU citizens, welcomed the outcome of the vote and promised that questioning would be "rigorous and fair".

"Amongst the questions I will ask Mr Snowden," Moraes said, "will be why he decided to reveal the information and the consequences and implications of his actions; questions around his current situation in Russia; questions around his opinion on the impact of his revelations on security

The European parliament hopes to create an interactive situation for the hearing, where MEPs can interview Snowden in real time. However, as there are some concerns that a live linkup might allow the NSA to pinpoint Snowden's location, answers may end up having to be pre-recorded.

paulDecember 13, 2013 11:29 AM

The false-positive rate must be enormous. Maybe this kind of stuff might be useful for tracking a target you already have really good reasons to track, who is meeting with (or doing a dead drop to) people you also have really good reasons to track, and none of whom have innocent reasons to be in the city in question. Oh, and who are stupid enough to carry their own turned-on phones while doing it.

The part about tracing people who are following US personnel would seem to be limited not only to adversaries working singly and carrying identifiable phones, but also those without access to the equipment or data capable of simply tracking US personnel by *their* phones.

SteveDecember 29, 2013 8:17 AM

Interesting, but I'm missing the link between the NSA and cellular operator over which information is exchanged.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..