The NSA Could Track Cell Users’ Locations, Chooses Not To

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National Security Agency installation in Fort Meade, Maryland January 25, 2006.
Photo: Charles Dharapak

In an effort to get Americans (or the small portion of the populace that's passionate about privacy rights) to stop freaking out about the NSA scandal, government officials have stressed that they aren't listening to our phone calls, and are merely collecting data on the numbers of both parties, the time, and call duration. Now U.S. officials tell The Wall Street Journal that the NSA actually doesn't collect "any cell phone locational information" either — though they totally could, if they ever felt like it.

As the leaked court document ordering Verizon to turn over all call data revealed, the NSA is authorized to collect "geolocational" information, such as the location of the nearest cellphone tower used to place a call. While that data would obviously be useful in a criminal investigation, officials say it isn't valuable enough for intelligence purposes to justify the effort required to use it. To be clear, the government isn't concerned about violating Americans' privacy by recording our movements; it's just too much work to keep tabs on all of us.