As the massive trove of Snowden documents continues to be released by the press, we are starting to get a more and more detailed and disturbing understanding of how the NSA is spying on American and foreign citizens. Thanks to the Washington Post’s latest story, we know about their massive system that collects over 5 billion location records per day and stores them in a database. This program, known as FASCIA collects multiple personally identifying points of data about a person’s cell phone. Most specifically, their LAC (location area code), CellID (cell tower you’re connected to), VLR (visitor location register), IMEI (your phone’s unique serial number), IMSI (your phone number or SIM card’s unique identifier) and MSISDN (a multi-level identifier about the country of origin, carrier and number).
Based on these parameters, they could easily identify where you are located within a certain area as well as when you were there. In addition to that, while we don’t now how real-time their data is, there’s an assumption that if they have access to all this location data, they could easily analyze a person’s travel behavior and determine where they could be at any given time of day without them knowing. Obviously, with these latest revelations the government will have to justify why they are collecting all this data and then to explain how it actually keeps us safe from ‘threats’.
The Washington Post also has a very good detailed interactive page that explains how the NSA tracks people and how they justify its legality. There you can see how the cell coverage in the US works and how the NSA claims to be tracking people that could potentially be following a ‘target’ as a co-traveler. But in order to do so, they have to collect vast amounts of data assuming certain people are traveling with a target based on their movement through a cell site. If someone were to travel on public transportation that could result in hundreds of people becoming co-travelers and equally as important to the NSA.
To me, all of this stinks of 21st century spying on citizens and I don’t care what justifications the NSA, CIA or FBI uses. Our civil liberties are being infringed upon and they are collecting such vast amounts of data on people without them ever having to have done a single thing. The fact that people are becoming targets without any probable cause alone is shocking, not to mention the entire idea of self-incrimination.