As we noted last week, Senator Ron Wyden has been repeatedly asking the intelligence community about whether or not they’re tracking the location on any Americans, and the intelligence community has steadfastly avoided giving a straight answer (as they do). Specifically, he was asking about whether or not the NSA has in the past, or has plans to, get location data on Americans in bulk. The NSA’s Keith Alexander did his "under this program" two step, in which he insists that they are not doing so under this program and at this time. That leaves open other programs and at other times.
Earlier today, we discussed the NYT’s coverage of how the NSA has set up its own shadow social network, including information from Americans (none of which involves a warrant). In that piece, they describe how location info is part of what’s included:
A 2009 PowerPoint presentation provided more examples of data sources available in the “enrichment” process, including location-based services like GPS and TomTom, online social networks, billing records and bank codes for transactions in the United States and overseas.
At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday, General Alexander was asked if the agency ever collected or planned to collect bulk records about Americans’ locations based on cellphone tower data. He replied that it was not doing so as part of the call log program authorized by the Patriot Act, but said a fuller response would be classified.
So, apparently they are getting GPS data. And if they were getting it from TomTom and other GPS services, then you have to imagine that they might now also include GPS data from the phones that so many of us carry around today. GPS data is even more accurate than cell-site data. And, of course, the data in "this program" appears to mostly come via Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. The program that Keith Alexander was referring to in his remarks was the dragnet collection of business records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. So, it’s not difficult to see how Alexander might be technically "accurate" with the "not this program" dance, even as lots of Americans’ location data is being sucked up via GPS (and potentially cell-site locations) under 702…