Since Edward Snowden leaked documents pertaining to the U.S. National Security Agency’s PRISM program, more and more details have emerged as to the organization’s privacy-infringing practices. The latest in a string of admissions to spying around the world relates to the tracking of cell phones within the United States. NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander claimed that the government compiled massive amounts of data as to the locations of cell phones used by American citizens in a secret program carried out in 2010 and 2011. The program tracked the location of cell phone users of people that were not suspected of committing a crime.
Alexander maintains that the program was used simply to ensure that the data-collection worked. The NSA “received samples in order to test its systems,” Alexander said, explaining that the data was not used for intelligence purposes.
The program has since been halted in accordance with Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
Democratic Oregan Senator Ron Wyden, long a critic of the government’s spying tactics, released a statement regarding the NSA’s admission.
“After years of stonewalling on whether the government has ever tracked or planned to track the location of law abiding Americans through their cell phones, once again, the intelligence leadership has decided to leave most of the real story secret - even when the truth would not compromise national security,” Wyden said in the statement.
Others claim that the NSA’s admission does little to correct a problem of privacy-invasion that is already widespread, and much beyond the scospe of the NSA’s involvement. ACLU lobbyist Chris Calabrese explained that cell phone location-tracking is rampant even in local law enforcement agencies.
“The NSA’s attempt to collect this data shows the need for stronger legislative oversight of the agency’s activities, but the fact is that federal, state, and local law enforcement are already regularly collecting cell phone location information without a warrant.”
Calabrese referenced the Supreme Court case United States v. Jones, which ruled that law enforcement agencies could not place a GPS tracker on a suspect’s car without a warrant. “Last year a majority of the Supreme Court recognized that location information is sensitive, and we need legislation that respects privacy rights when it comes to Americans’ movements,” Calbrese said.
Snowden remains on asylum in Russia, and the infamous leaker is currently one of the finalists for the Sakharov Prize, a prestigious award granted by the Parliament of the European Union for those “who commbat fanaticism, intolerance or oppression.”