In general, cell phones broadcast their location even when they’re not used at place where a call or text and even whenever the GPS is switched off, emitting signals sent to nearest cell phone towers from wherever we are.
The US National Security Agency (NSA) is now collecting and storing the user locations in a vast database that contains the locations of at least millions of devices, approx nearly five billion records a day or two trillion records per year, as per the recently released documents from Edward Snowden, the Washington Post reported on last Wednesday.
The agency is now able to track the movements of individual person and to map their relationships with other people, the Washington Post made clear through a video simulation that showed glowing dots indicating any individual traveling in closer proximity.
NSA declared it’s not any sort of interest in anyone’s data, but the agency is collecting as broadly as possible using international authority to locate any sort of threat.
Particularly, NSA is using Executive Order -12333 to keep and store the data collection, as per the report of Washington Post’s Ashkan Soltani.
The concerned order allowed them to carry out any sort of surveillance internationally as long as it’s not prohibited by the present constitution.
Recently, a lawyer from an intelligence agency emphasized to the newspaper information that location data are collected by methods “tuned for looking outside the USA”. Even, he has repeated that three times, as the Washington Post reports.
When US cellphone’s data are collected, the lawyer said, the data are not cover up by the Fourth Amendment, which protects US Citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Many US citizen’s location are incidentally swept up into this huge data collection in order to find secret links to surveillance targets, the newspaper reveals.
Through its location identifying databases, NSA applies analytical techniques to find what it calls co-travelers: unknown people traveling with or meeting with a known object.
The newspaper outlined here how the sophisticated data-mining and scrapping analytics, known jointly as Co-Traveler, work.
When a mobile phone moves between cell phone controlling towers, its location is triangulated by NSA. When a person travels through an area that has lots of base traffic, potential co-travelers appear alongside when their own mobile device broadcasts its location to towers.
While using the co-traveler analytics, NSA can enter any suspect’s name into their system and locating other people physically is near that person or traveling with them, and monitoring the global network of cell phone towers to do the same.
How can one avoid being tracked by cell phone towers that track you even with GPS turned off? This is the matter of utilizing advanced technology.
Most customers would likely imagine that switching off their handsets should prevent it from emitting or receiving any signal.
But since Snowden first started to release documents about NSA, the possibility has arisen that the surveillance agency (NSA) can trace even a phone that’s powered off.
These possible tracking of powered-down mobiles could well have informed the advice handed out earlier this year in a brochure from the US State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, in which it was warned that those traveling to the Winter Olympic Games in Russia to be extremely sensitively suspicius with communications.
The US State Department said that business travelers should be “soecially aware that business secrets, negotiating positions, and other secret information may be taken and shared with competitors, rebels, counterparts, and/or Russian regulatory and govt. entities,” the document also advised.
The department’s list of safeguards for ensuring safe communications also included removing batteries from phones entirely when not in use.
The US state department’s advice might be nothing more than provision. Then again, the US government could know for sure that powered-down mobile devices are trackable by NSA.
Either way, those who even care about their privacy and don’t want to be swept up in inspection dragnets, be it in Russia or anywhere else, should likely have err on the side of caution and remove the batteries from their mobile devices whenever they don’t want their movements and relationships tracked.