Director of the National Security Agency admitted publicly on Wednesday that his agency did, in fact, collect bulk GPS location data from American cellphone users during a NSA field test that took place between 2010 and 2011.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committeeon Wednesday, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander said the agency "received samples in order to test its systems," making sure the capability was actually sound but said the agency did not "process" the information it gathered.
Alexander has repeatedly dodged questions about whether or not the NSA had a program to perform dragnet collection of the location data contained in the cellphones of U.S. citizens and residents.
According to the Associated Press:
Alexander told the committee that his agency once tested, in 2010 and 2011, whether it could track Americans' cellphone locations, but he says the NSA does not use that capability, leaving that to the FBI to build a criminal or foreign intelligence case against a suspect and track him.
"This may be something that is a future requirement for the country but it is not right now because when we identify a number, we give it to the FBI," Alexander said. "When they get their probable cause, they can get the locational data."
And The Hill adds:
Leaks by Edward Snowden revealed earlier this year that the NSA is using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect records on all U.S. phone calls. Those records include phone numbers, call times and call durations — but whether the NSA also collected cellphone location information had remained unclear.
At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last week, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Alexander about the existence of a location data program.
Alexander responded the NSA is not currently collecting cellphone location data in bulk, but Wyden pressed the NSA chief on whether the agency "ever" collected such information.
“What I don't want to do, senator, is put out in an unclassified forum anything that's classified here,” Alexander said at the time.
In a statement Wednesday, Wyden, who has access to classified information as a member of the intelligence panel, said Alexander is still concealing information about the NSA's tracking of U.S. cellphones.
“After years of stonewalling on whether the government has ever tracked or planned to track the location of law abiding Americans through their cell phones, once again, the intelligence leadership has decided to leave most of the real story secret — even when the truth would not compromise national security,” Wyden said.