The National Security Agency tested mobile-phone data for use in tracking locations of Americans until determining it lacked any intelligence value, the agency’s director said.
The NSA tested samples of bulk location information on U.S. mobile phones in 2010 and 2011 to see whether the data format could be used in its computer systems, General Keith Alexander told the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing in Washington today.
The data wasn’t used in actual surveillance operations, Alexander said, and he didn’t provide details.
“It was test data, and what we couldn’t find was operational value out of it given that we could just turn that over to the FBI, and they could do the cell-site location if they needed it with a warrant,” Alexander said in an interview after the hearing.
The NSA collects bulk phone records on millions of Americans, such as call durations and numbers dialed, from U.S. telecommunications companies under a program exposed in June by former government contractor Edward Snowden, who remains in Russia under temporary asylum.
Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who supports barring some of NSA’s surveillance practices, questioned Alexander during a hearing last week about whether the agency has ever collected mobile-phone location data on Americans, or ever developed a plan to do so.
Alexander refused to give a “yes” or “no” answer, saying Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had submitted classified information to the secret court overseeing the spy programs about the matter.
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