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New Documents Reveal Government Storing Personal Info From Cell Phones

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WJZ general assignment reporter Mike Hellgren came to Maryland's News...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Stunning new revelations about wide-ranging surveillance by the NSA. The government is amassing a staggering amount of information from cell phones, and that’s drawing sharp criticism from privacy advocates.

They’ve also been boon to several Maryland businesses.

Mike Hellgren breaks down the concerns.

If your cell phone is on, chances are it’s emitting a wealth of information about your location — information the government is now collecting with wide-ranging consequences.

Your phone sends a wealth of location data, mapping where you are, when you’re there and for how long.

New documents leaked from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal the government is storing staggering amounts of that personal information — much of it on ordinary citizens — in a quest to protect against terrorist attacks.

All the concern over security has turned into big business for companies like Maryland-based Koolspan, which makes chips and apps that secure calls, taxes and other data.

“We’ll grow probably 1,000 percent this year, with Snowden being just one key component ,” said Koolspan CEO Gregg Smith. “Most of the countries where you have the ability to travel to today have some type of listening capabilities or eavesdropping capabilities.”

The CEO says while privacy is a valid concern, your phone’s GPS system plays an important safety role.

“If you happen to hit 911 and you have an emergency, you want the first responders to find you,” he said.

With the U.S. accused of spying on foreign leaders — even cardinals at the Vatican — the data tracking has drawn scrutiny from Congress.

Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski is one of several lawmakers pushing for better disclosure from the government.

They want to amend a defense spending bill to require the NSA to say whether it “has ever collected the cell-site location information of a large number of United States persons with no known connection to suspicious activity.”

It’s part of a continuing debate over whether U.S. intelligence has gone too far.

“The NSA’s mission is to collect and analyze foreign intelligence in order to protect our country and its national security. NSA does not have any program to collect bulk locational metadata from mobile devices inside the United States. If the NSA incidentally collects metadata on a U.S. person, there are privacy protections and minimization procedures in place,” said Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger in a statement. “It is also important we remember that the Intelligence Community has been working hard, and within the bounds of the law, to keep the country and our allies safe. We must continue to support its lawful means of doing so. The threat is very real and reinforces the need for robust foreign collection.”

The Washington Post reports the NSA has vast access to carriers’ networks, pulling in location data from around the world.

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