Today, The Washington Post added another noteworthy finding to the growing pile of information leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden: the NSA is collecting nearly five billion cellphone location records per day from across the world. The Post reports that this initiative allows the NSA to track individuals and map relationships “in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.” This gigantic data collection feeds a database that stores information on “hundreds of millions of devices,” according to the documents obtained by The Post. One estimate puts the size of this at 27 terabytes, which the paper frames as twice as large as the text content in the Library of Congress’ print collection. It’s so big that a 2012 NSA internal briefing recognizes the data is “outpacing our ability to ingest, process, and store.” And while the NSA doesn’t focus this initiative specifically on Americans, the massive amount of information means plenty of that does pertain to US phones “incidentally,” which The Post translates as a “foreseeable” but not “deliberate” result.

The paper spoke with an intelligence lawyer who continued to emphasize that this program focuses beyond the US, which seems to prevent the data from falling under the Fourth Amendment (unreasonable search and seizure).     

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