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Cellphones Government Handhelds Privacy United States

NSA Tracking Cellphone Locations Worldwide 256

Posted by timothy
from the relax-citizens-we're-only-watching-you-closely dept.
tramp writes "The National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, according to top-secret documents and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals — and map their relationships — in ways that would have been previously unimaginable. Of course it is 'only metadata' and absolutely not invading privacy if you ask our 'beloved' NSA." Pretty soon, the argument about whether you have in any given facet of your life a "reasonable expectation of privacy" may take on a whole new meaning. Also at Slash BI.
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NSA Tracking Cellphone Locations Worldwide

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  • by SecurityGuy (217807) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @09:38AM (#45607453)

    Pretty soon, the argument about whether you have in any given facet of your life a "reasonable expectation of privacy" may take on a whole new meaning.

    No, it absolutely will not. People need to get through their heads that just because your rights are violated, that doesn't mean expecting them not to be becomes unreasonable. If someone breaks into your house every day, it doesn't become "reasonable" for them to do so, or unreasonable for you to expect people to stay out of your house.

    The logic espoused by the quoted idea is the same as saying if police were to start strip searching everyone without cause, it would be reasonable simply because it always happens.

    Stop that.

    • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @09:46AM (#45607527)

      The logic espoused by the quoted idea is the same as saying if police were to start strip searching everyone without cause, it would be reasonable simply because it always happens.

      Yes, it is. Gone through an airport lately?

      • by Opportunist (166417) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @10:13AM (#45607811)

        Yes. Oh, you mean in the US? No, are you nuts?

        Take a wild guess why.

        I used to make long and rather expensive vacations in the US. It was a great country to spend some fun time (and quite a few 1000 bucks) in. It's no longer the case, sadly.

        • I used to make long and rather expensive vacations in the US. It was a great country to spend some fun time (and quite a few 1000 bucks) in. It's no longer the case, sadly.

          Ditto. And I live in Dallas!

          If I have to go through Customs-level inspection every time I get on a damned airplane, I might as well go to somewhere really worth it. June in Ireland was beautiful. Looking forward to Germany and the Rhine Valley next year.

          • by SLot (82781)

            Also in Dallas. Hate D/FW airport. Enjoy Germany, beautiful country. Croatia is also a great place to vacation. My next trip is Bucharest.

      • by ImOuttaHere (2996813) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @10:16AM (#45607857)

        Er. No. Three letter agency spying on US citizens is illegal. Period. Ever read the 4th amendment to your constitution? Perhaps you should.

        The logic espoused by the quoted idea is the same as saying if police were to start strip searching everyone without cause, it would be reasonable simply because it always happens.

        Yes, it is. Gone through an airport lately?

        • "TSA" appears to be a three letter agency. 4th Amendment doesn't seem to be even slowing them down.

          • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @11:03AM (#45608385)

            hmm, a government that has stopped representing the will of the people and does all it can to continue along its self-protectionist ways, stepping on any chances of change.

            sound like anything you've studied in history, before?

            we're watching history in the making right now even though many of us don't realize it.

          • You volunteered to be screened by the TSA. No one forces you to use commercial airlines when you travel. Also if you enter in any governmental building (federal, state, or municipal) you may see a sign informing you that by entering the building that you are subject to search.

            The 4th amendment is suppose to protect you from government search and seizure in your own premise. Logically that extends to your cell phone that is on your person. As far as the 4th amendment is concerned, NSA is violating it while

            • No one forces you to use commercial airlines when you travel.

              Um... What other airlines are there? Military, perhaps, but I don't expect that they take on civilian passengers very often.

            • by TheNastyInThePasty (2382648) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @12:33PM (#45609445)

              **WARNING: SLIPPERY SLOPE DETECTOR ACTIVATED**
              "No one forced you to use the train/subway/bus so of course they should be able to search you" (Already happening)
              "No one forced you to drive on public roads so of course they should be able to search you" (They are working on deploying scanner tech for the roadside right now)
              "No one forced you to use public sidewalks so of course they should be able to search you"

              Uh. I guess I'll stay in my house?

            • The 4th amendment is suppose to protect you from government search and seizure in your own premise.

              Where does it say that? All I see is this:

              The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated

              It doesn't state where you have to be to get those rights. It doesn't say you can be secure in your houses only. It lists those other things (persons, papers, and effects) precisely so the government can't wait around for you to leave your house and then search you or your stuff.

      • by kamapuaa (555446)

        Yeah I have, many times, I travel internationally a lot for work and have family in a different state and enjoy foreign vacations. I have to put my keys and coins in a basket and then I walk through a metal detector. Totally painless and a minor inconvenience, understandable in the light of things. Not any worse, better, or different, in foreign countries than in the US. I don't understand why the lunatic fringe of Slashdot treats this short procedure as some unconscionable violation of basic human righ

        • by s.petry (762400) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @11:10AM (#45608471)

          Then you don't travel very much, meaning to different locations. I have flown out of San Jose and get the minimal treatment you describe. Go to Reagan Intl. in DC and it's a very different experience which leaves you feeling violated. Detroit and Dallas are somewhere in the Middle of the two depending on your luck in getting into line.

          The lack of consistency from a group that is allegedly working from the same playbook is both confusing and concerning.

          I drive most places and don't see "voluntary DUI checks" or mandatory "fruit and vegetable inspections". I have at times run into those things as well, so know they happen first hand.

          Just because you have not experienced bad things does not mean they don't exist. If have doubts and you do fly a lot, change your name to Sadam and book a flight. I'm sure you will get a nice dose of treatment people complain about.

          You are like the guy living in the suburbs that thinks inner city gangs are not really a problem. Move your ass downtown and your opinion would change rather quickly.

        • by smooth wombat (796938) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @11:33AM (#45608713) Homepage Journal
          I don't understand why the lunatic fringe of Slashdot treats this short procedure as some unconscionable violation of basic human rights.

          It has nothing to do with a lunatic fringe. It has to do with not being treated like a criminal by default, which is what the TSA does. You are a criminal, plain and simple, unless you can prove otherwise.

          That mantra is the complete opposite of presumed innocent until proven guilty. If you feel like being treated as a criminal is acceptable, then there is no hope for democracy.
        • As s.petry points out, YMMV. I have a prosthetic hip and various other bits of ferromagnetic material embedded inside me. That triggers said metal detectors. That means I get patted down. Every. Damned. Time.* And I fly a lot. I'm on a first name basis with a number of TSA agents at our (small, rural) airport.

          While it doesn't trigger PTSD or other major psychological pain, it's is annoying to have some stranger ram their hand up their crotch in full view of everyone else. I've been delayed in larger a

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 05, 2013 @09:47AM (#45607553)

      Precedent is a bigger component of the law than logic is.

      Don't mistake the way you'd like things to work from the way they actually work.

      • Between precedent and law stands PROTEST!

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 05, 2013 @10:18AM (#45607881)

        Neither mistake unilateral actions of the executive for actions taken with permission of the judiciary.

        Precedent applies to the judiciary. They do not take the fact "we are already doing this" as a legal precedent.

        And how do you think precedents get set, exactly? The judiciary takes a logical view and makes a logical decision. Precedent merely means not having to do that every single time afterwards.

    • by lagomorpha2 (1376475) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @09:55AM (#45607655)

      Don't underestimate how readily willing humans are to adapt. There are places in the world where having your house broken into every day has nearly become the norm and people have decided to adapt to the new situation instead of fighting it.

      If you want to fight something like this you have to do it before it becomes the accepted norm.

      • by NatasRevol (731260) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @10:20AM (#45607905) Journal

        Before you fight it, you have to know it's happening.

        Without Snowden, no one outside of the NSA would know all this has been happening for a decade.

        Which makes it all the more bizarre that people think Snowden is a traitor. He shone the light on all the illegality of the government.

        • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @11:07AM (#45608439)

          its only the faux news crowd that has been spoon-fed the bullshit that snowden is a traitor or bad guy. those idiots believe anything they are told if its given the right angle that appeals to core fears and 'warm fuzzies' in that demographic.

          the rest of us fully realize that snowden was this centuries highest hero in the right for freedom. worldwide freedom; which has - to my knowledge - NEVER been fought for before (its always been about 'my country vs yours' but now the whole world realizes we are all being taken advantage of, as whole, regardless of borders!

          this fight for freedom IS world-wide, make no mistake. pretty much every other country holds snowden in high esteem (the people, that is; their leaders are all on the wrong path but that's a given in today's corrupt world, sad to say).

          • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @12:15PM (#45609207)

            its only the faux news crowd that has been spoon-fed the bullshit that snowden is a traitor or bad guy.

            Wow, I never knew Nancy Pelosi was one of "the faux news crowd".

            "I think on three scores -- that is leaking the Patriot Act section 215, FISA 702, and the president's classified cyber operations's directive -- on the strength of leaking that, yes, that would be a prosecutable offense," Pelosi told reporters at her Capitol Hill news briefing. "I think that he should be prosecuted."

            You can't assign this to conservatives. You can find plenty of conservatives that think Snowden is a hero--and plenty of liberals who say Snowden's a criminal and think the NSA should be give free rein to "protect" us.

          • by Kilo Kilo (2837521) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @12:22PM (#45609271)

            its only the faux news crowd

            You mean like the President? I don't think he watches a lot of Fox.

          • by PeeAitchPee (712652) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @12:22PM (#45609273)

            Bullshit. The leftist "big gov't is always right" crowd wants to nail him just as much. How dare he have the audacity to paint the result of the granting of unchecked Federal power in a negative light to the serfs?

            This is NOT a left- or right-wing issue. Both parties gleefully hate your freedoms and civil liberties and take turns shitting on the Constitution while playing people against one another with wedge issues like abortion, gay rights, and illegal immigration. And people like you who put the blame on one side but not the other are part of the problem.

    • by gsslay (807818)

      Privacy as a right is not an absolute unchanging concept because "privacy" is not an absolute concept. It changes.

      Someone's idea of privacy in Victorian London 1880 may not to be regarded as either a right, or even reasonable, in Atlanta in 2013. Whether it's a change for the better or worse is a matter of opinion, of course.

      There is nothing to suggest that the concept of "privacy" won't continue to change in the future, while still remaining what people think of as a right. Obviously your example is ex

    • by ImOuttaHere (2996813) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @10:12AM (#45607797)

      Exactly!!! Well illustrated points.

      Standards of "reasonable-ness" in the US and UK are completely screwed up. More importantly, claiming illegal actions "reasonable" does not make them any less unlawful, now does it?

      Pretty soon, the argument about whether you have in any given facet of your life a "reasonable expectation of privacy" may take on a whole new meaning.

      No, it absolutely will not. People need to get through their heads that just because your rights are violated, that doesn't mean expecting them not to be becomes unreasonable. If someone breaks into your house every day, it doesn't become "reasonable" for them to do so, or unreasonable for you to expect people to stay out of your house.

      The logic espoused by the quoted idea is the same as saying if police were to start strip searching everyone without cause, it would be reasonable simply because it always happens.

      Stop that.

    • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @10:19AM (#45607893)

      I agree with you, of course.

      But at the same time, I get what they mean too, and I think it's the result of some poorly chosen words on the part of judges decades ago. They never should have referred to it as an "expectation", since our expectations are shaped by the world around us, regardless of the legality of what is taking place in it. As such, if we're aware of widespread surveillance that is taking place, then technically we should have no reasonable expectation of privacy, even though we may have reason to believe that it should exist.

      What we need is a different word. Something that refers to an expectation that is only shaped by things occurring as they are supposed to. I suppose we have "wishful thinking", but I was hoping for something that sounded a bit better than that.

    • by TheCarp (96830)

      > No, it absolutely will not. People need to get through their heads that just because your rights are
      > violated, that doesn't mean expecting them not to be becomes unreasonable

      The problem is it already has become that. Expectation of privacy is a "god of the gaps" problem. You have it, except where there is some reason you don't....and those reasons keep expanding. Most, taken individually are small: But even a large container can be filled and then buried in the smallest grains of sand.

      The thing is,

    • The logic espoused by the quoted idea is the same as saying if police were to start strip searching everyone without cause, it would be reasonable simply because it always happens.

      But they already have been doing that:
      http://news.yahoo.com/police-turn-routine-traffic-stops-into-cavity-searches-201433510.html [yahoo.com]
      http://www.wnd.com/2013/11/3rd-target-of-body-cavity-searches-comes-forward/ [wnd.com]
      http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/06/justice/new-mexico-search-lawsuit/ [cnn.com]
      http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/troopers-texas-probe-genitals-women-traffic-stops-article-1.1414668 [nydailynews.com]

      And dont have your dog along:
      http://www.myfoxatlanta.com/video?clipId=9513174&autostart=false [myfoxatlanta.com]
      http://www.businessinsider.com/police- [businessinsider.com]

  • Fuck You, USA (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 05, 2013 @09:39AM (#45607459)

    What else is there to say.

    • Re:Fuck You, USA (Score:4, Interesting)

      by digitalchinky (650880) <dtchky@gmail.com> on Thursday December 05, 2013 @10:07AM (#45607745)

      What else is there to say? I would start by telling your telecommunications carrier to encrypt every single SS7 link they own. Different keys on every channel, in every trunk, everywhere, all of them. That one act would be utterly blinding. This 'meta data' problem could be solved easily and permanently, there is just no incentive to do so when your arms are tied or there is money to be made.

      • I would start by telling your telecommunications carrier to encrypt every single SS7 link they own.

        They are a part of the cabal - haven't you been paying attention?

        What incentive does you carrier have to help you and not them? They carry a bigger stick.

      • You act as if they're not part of the deal...

      • by 7-Vodka (195504)
        The telecoms are owned and infiltrated by the intelligence services.

        Also, some commercial encryption has back doors.

    • Thank you. That's exactly it, isn't it?

      What else is there to say.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      How about "you are under arrest, you have the right to remain silent but anything you do say can be used against you in a court of law", or whatever the local equivalent is.

      Individual countries should at least put out arrest warrants for NSA employees so that they can't travel there. Any EU country that does it can make it an EU wide warrant. It may not result in any arrests but at least there would be some repercussions for the US.

  • Blame the Victims (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 05, 2013 @09:45AM (#45607511)

    I'm not saying its ok, but what did people think was going to happen when they started carrying around devices that store and report their physical position every few minutes. Somebody is getting that data. If its not the NSA, then its a phone company or an advertising company or police officers or etc...

  • Love this quote (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @09:46AM (#45607543)

    Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA, said “there is no element of the intelligence community that under any authority is intentionally collecting bulk cellphone location information about cellphones in the United States.”

    The dude is quite the contortionist... the statement basically tells us absolutely nothing.

    On second thought - it tells us everything.

    • Re:Love this quote (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SJHillman (1966756) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @09:51AM (#45607609)

      Possible meanings of that quote:
      1 - We're collecting it unintentionally
      2 - We're collecting it without authority
      3 - We're not doing it in bulk, each one is individually collected
      4 - We're not doing it in the US, only everywhere else
      5 - We're collecting information, just not location information
      6 - We're using subcontractors that are not part of the "intelligence community"
      7 - We're considering the entity doing it something other than an "element"
      8 - We're collecting it from devices other than cellphones
      9 - We're collecting location information about people, not about cellphones
      10 - I am the very model of a modern major-general.

      • by Kjella (173770)

        6 - We're using subcontractors that are not part of the "intelligence community"

        Or as a variation:
        11. We're collecting data on everybody except in the US, which we swap with the UK for data they can't collect. This close cooperation with foreign agencies is of course not counted. The only thing you can be sure of from the NSA leaks is that even if your own country doesn't spy on you, all other countries sure do with USA at the head of the class.

      • Re:Love this quote (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Dr Caleb (121505) <thedarkknight@hu ... il.com minus cat> on Thursday December 05, 2013 @10:17AM (#45607873) Homepage Journal
        If you consider the recent stories that a A woman was denied entry to the US [slashdot.org] based on confidential medical records that the US shouldn't have had; and recent revelations that '5-Eye' countries give information on their citizens to other 5-Eye countries [theguardian.com] to get around local privacy laws:

        You could infer

        11 - The NSA didn't have to collect the data at all because Telecom companies gave them the data "freely".

      • So many different possibilities...I mean it's like he purposely left his statement open-ended so as to not specifically deny and guarantee that the shit isn't happening ...oh, wait.
      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        5 - We're collecting information, just not location information

        My bet would be this. They collect signal strength and association data from cell towers. It is then simple to transform that to a location, but the transform happens on their sever so they didn't "collect" it.

    • ...it tells us everything.

      Exactly. Which people who don't think outside the box will see "everything" as "we have nothing to worry about, they only go after terrorists and the ends justify the means". Meanwhile, there is no "official" "authority" that this guy can allude to publicly, most likely because intricate details of exactly what they're collecting and prevention of abuse of the system is "classified", so how would we ever really know? Fuck we wouldn't know shit at all if Snowden didn't have the balls to do what he did. I

    • by gmuslera (3436)
      Don't matter what they say If they can lie even to the congress [slate.com] with no consequences.
    • Re:Love this quote (Score:5, Interesting)

      by chihowa (366380) * on Thursday December 05, 2013 @10:49AM (#45608245)

      The more qualified a statement is, the more likely it is a lie by omission.

      That applies to all areas of life, but is extremely useful when interpreting the statements of politicians and other "authorities".

  • Metadata (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rotten (8785) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @09:48AM (#45607567) Journal

    Depends on how you define metadata. Nowadays the line between privacy, metadata and your last name, habits, shopping, etc seems to be a single "SELECT" line involving one or two tables.

    The information is obviously a valuable law enforcement tool. Just like phone records, like wiretapping (under a judge auth.).
    At least my perception, way before snowden and all the latest leaks, was that this was actually happening. This is just a confirmation.

    Would be great if, as in wiretapping, this would be supervised by justice, and used only in criminal investigations. Sound naive ...i know

    • Depends on how you define metadata. Nowadays the line between privacy, metadata and your last name, habits, shopping, etc seems to be a single "SELECT" line involving one or two tables.

      The information is obviously a valuable law enforcement tool. Just like phone records, like wiretapping (under a judge auth.).
      At least my perception, way before snowden and all the latest leaks, was that this was actually happening. This is just a confirmation.

      Would be great if, as in wiretapping, this would be supervised by justice, and used only in criminal investigations. Sound naive ...i know

      That's probably a pretty good definition of what separates data from metadata. A single JOIN clause.

    • Re:Metadata (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @09:57AM (#45607679) Journal

      (Warrantless) Metadata: That info with which the King of England would have rounded up the Founding Fathers, and thus they would have considered it part of search and sezure protections.

      This "it's just metadata" is a fraud.

      • Mod parent up, please, as this is the standard against which we ought to be evaluating infringements of the Bill of Rights.

        (It works for the Second Amendment too: if any particular restriction on guns would have prevented the Founding Fathers from being able to revolt, then it is unconstitutional.)

    • by jeti (105266)

      Metadata is just data about data. This can be almost anything. For voice recordings, you could reasonably claim the following information to be metadata:
      - Existence of keywords or keyphrases
      - Voice signatures, identifying the speakers
      - Stress levels of the voices

      If you look at how US agencies are gaming the legal system, they will probably claim that transcripts of conversations are not the conversations themselves and therefore metadata.

    • Depends on how you define metadata. Nowadays the line between privacy, metadata and your last name, habits, shopping, etc seems to be a single "SELECT" line involving one or two tables.

      The information is obviously a valuable law enforcement tool. Just like phone records, like wiretapping (under a judge auth.).
      At least my perception, way before snowden and all the latest leaks, was that this was actually happening. This is just a confirmation.

      Would be great if, as in wiretapping, this would be supervised by justice, and used only in criminal investigations. Sound naive ...i know

      Even in your WEAKEST definition of metadata, it's still FAR to invasive. [kieranhealy.org] The preceding link walks thorough an easy to follow demonstration how a few simple rows in "one or two tables" and some matrix multiplication can be used. In short: You are ignorant, please educate yourself. The "law enforcement tools" are only ever used against people, never for them; [youtube.com] Innocent or not, it's the job of prosecutors to prosecute. Parallel construction [wikipedia.org] is a technique in active wide-spread use by Law Enforcement Agenice

  • NSA Delenda Est (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Phoenix666 (184391) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @09:53AM (#45607621)

    I like the idea the folks in Utah had to cut off the water supply from the NSA facility so they're unable to cool their hardware and it melts. An across-the-board move to shun them and their conspirators in Washington would send the clear message that they had better change course and obey the law before the American people compel them through more drastic measures.

    • by ewieling (90662)
      I would like to think all the geeks at the NSA are looking for work in the private sector, but there will always be a enough collaborators for the NSA to function. There is no single way to "take down the NSA". Congress needs to de-fund them, people need to refuse their job offers, cities need to deny them building permits, high level officials need to go to jail, the supreme court needs to grow some balls, the FISA court needs to be disbanded, a Church Committee type of investigation needs to happen, e
    • by Politburo (640618)
      Just like how tarring and feathering tax collectors during the 'Whiskey rebellion' sent a clear message to the federal government..
  • NSA spin (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 05, 2013 @09:53AM (#45607631)

    Interesting spin

    "One senior collection manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity but with permission from the NSA, said “we are getting vast volumes” of location data from around the world by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks globally and that serve U.S. cellphones as well as foreign ones. Additionally, data are often collected from the tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad with their cellphones every year."

    You are supposed to infer from that, that only Americans who travel abroad with their cellphones are the ones tracked. When it's not, it's Americans at home too, the tower ids are in the metadata he's already admitted they collect.

    “there is no element of the intelligence community that under any authority is intentionally collecting bulk cellphone location information about cellphones in the United States.”

    Police Officer : "Did you murder that woman?"
    Knife carrying suspect, caught as scene of crime, covered in victims blood: "I had no authority to intentionally kill that woman"

  • I guess they forgot the part where Batman has it destroyed it because it poses a danger to society and goes against everything he believes in.
  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @10:32AM (#45608051) Journal

    Just checking - the carriers are all tracking our movements as well, and using the data for profit.

    I understand the outrage over the NSA doing it, I'm just checking to see if we're all fine with the corporations doing the same thing for profit as part of our wonder free-market society.

  • by Suiggy (1544213) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @10:40AM (#45608131)

    Bow to Israel, or we will know that you did not. Our eyes see everywhere.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/11/nsa-americans-personal-data-israel-documents [theguardian.com]

  • I use my old iPhone 3GS as an iPod touch. No SIM card, no service, no signal to trace.

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