The U.S. National Security Agency collects five billion records every day tracking cell phone movements around the world, according to documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
In terms of scale, the NSA’s location-tracking program dwarfs the other surveillance programs revealed since Snowden’s leaks began coming to light in June.
The NSA is “getting vast volumes” of location data from people around the world, said one anonymous employee, but the agency does not target Americans in the United States, the Washington Post reports. The agency does, however, vacuum up a substantial amount of location data on Americans “incidentally,” as a result of its monitoring of global cell phone networks that support US and foreign traffic as well as the cell phones of Americans traveling abroad. U.S. officials say the program is legal and designed to collect information only on foreign targets.
“The dragnet surveillance of hundreds of millions of cell phones flouts our international obligation to respect the privacy of foreigners and Americans alike,” ACLU Staff Attorney Catherine Crump told TIME. “The government should be targeting its surveillance at those suspected of wrongdoing, not assembling massive associational databases that by their very nature record the movements of a huge number of innocent people.”