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NSA Doesn’t Collect Cell Site Location Information?

From NBC News:

Lawyers eye NSA data as treasure trove for evidence in murder, divorce cases

By Bob Sullivan | June 20, 2013

The National Security Agency has spent years demanding that companies turn over their data. Now, the spy agency finds the shoe is on the other foot. A defendant in a Florida murder trial says telephone records collected by the NSA as part of its surveillance programs hold evidence that would help prove his innocence, and his lawyer has demanded that prosecutors produce those records. On Wednesday, the federal government filed a motion saying it would refuse, citing national security. But experts say the novel legal argument could encourage other lawyers to fight for access to the newly disclosed NSA surveillance database.

It was only a question of time before this occurred to people.

Defendant Terrance Brown is accused of participating in the 2010 murder of a Brinks security truck driver. Brown maintains his innocence, and claims cellphone location records would show he wasn’t at the scene of the crime. Brown’s cellphone provider — MetroPCS — couldn’t produce those records during discovery because it had deleted the data already.

We find this little hard to believe, given that financial records are normally kept for at least three and usually six years. (Such as tax records.)

On seeing the story in the Guardian indicating that Verizon had been ordered to turn over millions of calling records to the NSA last month, Brown’s lawyer had a novel idea: Make the NSA produce the records. The laws of evidence require that prosecutors turn over to the defense any records they have that might help prove a suspect’s innocence…

On Wednesday, federal prosecutors filed a motion saying they cannot respond to Brown’s request because the federal government does not have the data the suspect seeks — cell site location information, or CSLI. The leaked court order which inspired the request included was unclear on which metadata phone companies turn over…

The assertion in the motion that "at the outset, the government does not possess the CSLI data," is intriguing, as it clearly refutes the notion that the NSA obtains location data as part of its routine records acquisition from telephone companies. But it’s unlikely this case will yield more clues about what data the NSA does have, as additional legal discussion will be private…

Even so, this is the real news in this article. Because if it’s true, it puts to rest the claim that NSA can track people simply through their cell phone meta-data. But it is now common practice for both prosecutors and defendants to get cell site location information (CSLI) from phone companies.

In fact, according to the American Bar Association’s Journal: "in 2011, the nation’s nine largest cellphone carriers responded to 1.3 million requests for subscriber information of all kinds, including cell tower records, from law enforcement officials, according to data compiled by a congressional committee."

So CSLI must be part of cell phone companies regular records.

Which makes the denial here quite peculiar. Are the prosecutors lying here? Or did NSA lie to them? Or does NSA ask for meta-data without the cell site location information? This last seems highly unlikely.

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Friday, June 21st, 2013. Comments are currently closed.

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