Location, Location, Location (and GPS Location)

nsa_gps_trackingYesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from NSA Director General Keith Alexander. The case? Whether or not the NSA gathered GPS location data from American owned smartphones.

The Response? The NSA did collect GPS location data, but it was part of a test program that began in 2010 and spilled over into 2011. Does the NSA still gather location data? Not anymore.

Testing, Testing

Both House and Senate intelligence committees authorized the NSA tests. What was the NSA testing? Whether or not using GPS to gather data is useful. That’s the story, and the NSA is sticking to it.

More interestingly, though, is how the NSA gathered this GPS tracking information. It all began with the first smartphone (the ‘Nokia 9000,’ in case your wondering!)…

Smart Phones? Panic!

From the start, consumers loved the idea of the smartphone. What’s not to love, really? But, the NSA wasn’t on the warm and fuzzy bandwagon. This technology spread quickly, and it was a type of technology that the government had no way of accessing at first.

The problem? If the government can’t gain data on suspected terrorists, the country (as a whole) is at risk. So, naturally, the NSA started to test out ways that smartphone data could be mined.

Line ‘Em Up

Task forcers were immediately created – one per manufacturer and operating system (OS). At the time, this included iOS, BlackBerry, and Android. The task? To find ways to hack into each type of smartphone. In case you’re wondering, Apple’s iOS is the easiest to hack into!

After gaining access to each OS, data extraction began. In addition to GPS location data, images, contacts, call logs, and text messages were tapped. That’s how the NSA gained GPS tracking data via smartphone. Interesting, isn’t it? Feeling a bit paranoid?

Location, Location, Location

I think it was Ray Kroc (founder of McDonalds) that originally coined the phrase: “location, location, location.” That phrase was created for the real estate market, but it also applies to smartphone tracking.

In short: disabling app location features prevents people from tracking your whereabouts.

But, really, you don’t need to worry. The NSA has told press that this branch of the government only targets suspected criminals or those that are being investigated for terrorist activities.

The Case Continues

The NSA investigation is far from over, but it’s an interesting case to watch – and one that is centred on GPS tracking technology.

What do you think? Is GPS location tracking warranted? Do you always tag your photos with your current location information? Let us know below!

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