The National Security Agency conducted a secret pilot project in 2010 and 2011 to test the collection of bulk data about the location of Americans’ cellphones. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/us/nsa-experiment-traced-us-cellphone-locations.html?ref=us In his testimony, Mr. Clapper revealed few details about the project. He said that the N.S.A. does not currently collect locational information under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the provision the government says is the legal basis for the N.S.A.’s once-secret program under which it collects logs of all domestic calls from telephone companies.
An official familiar with the test project said its purpose was to see how the locational data would flow into the N.S.A.’s systems. While real data was used, it was never drawn upon in any investigation, the official said. It was unclear how many Americans’ locational data was collected as part of the project.
But Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who receives classified briefings as a member of the Intelligence Committee and who has raised concerns about cellphone location tracking, said in a statement that there was more to know about the matter than the government had now declassified.
“After years of stonewalling on whether the government has ever tracked or planned to track the location of law-abiding Americans through their cellphones, once again, the intelligence leadership has decided to leave most of the real story secret — even when the truth would not compromise national security,” Mr. Wyden said.
“The government has not made its case that bulk collection of domestic phone records is an effective counterterrorism tool, especially in light of the intrusion on American privacy,” Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said.
Questions about what, if anything, the agency has been doing to track Americans’ movements using cellphone location data have been simmering for years. The issue flared up again after an ambiguous exchange between Mr. Wyden and General Alexander at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last week.