US National Security Agency

NSA pilot project to collect locations of US smartphone users revealed

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 October, 2013, 5:14am

The US National Security Agency conducted a secret pilot project in 2010 and 2011 to test the collection of bulk data about the location of Americans' cellphones, but the agency never moved ahead with such a programme, according to intelligence officials.

The existence of the pilot project was confirmed on Wednesday by James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. The project used data from cellphone towers to locate people's cellphones.

Clapper said the NSA does not currently collect locational information under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the provision the government says is the legal basis for the NSA's once-secret programme under which it collects logs of all domestic calls from telephone companies.

"In 2010 and 2011, the NSA received samples to test the ability of its systems to handle the data format, but the data was not used for any other purpose and was never available for intelligence analysis purposes," he said.

Senator Ron Wyden, an Intelligence Committee member, said: "After years of stonewalling on whether the government has ever tracked … the location of law-abiding Americans through their cellphones, once again the intelligence leadership has decided to leave most of the real story secret."