WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Security Agency on Friday said its tracking of cellphones overseas is legally authorized under a sweeping U.S. presidential order. The distinction means the extraordinary surveillance program is not overseen by a secretive U.S. intelligence court but is regulated by some U.S. lawmakers, Obama administration insiders and inspectors general.
Documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that the NSA gathers as many as 5 billion records every day about the location data for hundreds of millions of cellphones worldwide by tapping into cables that carry international cellphone traffic. The Washington Post said the collection inadvertently scoops up an unknown amount of American data as well.
The NSA said Friday it was not tracking every foreign phone call and said it takes measures to limit how much U.S. data is collected. The NSA has declined to provide any estimates about the number of Americans whose cellphones it has tracked either because they were traveling overseas or their data was irrevocably included in information about foreigners’ cellphones.
“It is not ubiquitous,” NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said in a statement. “NSA does not know and cannot track the location of every cellphone.”