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Posted: May 20, 2014

Report: NSA records every single cellphone call made in the Bahamas


By Matt Picht

The Bahamas: a blissful island paradise, with sun, sand, surf ... and apparently, government surveillance. (Via Wikimedia Commons / Tom EngwirdaFlickr / Bryce Edwards)

Yes, another tidbit of information from Edward Snowden's treasure trove of classified NSA documents hit the press Monday. These new revelations center on a program that records every single cellphone call made in the Bahamas. (Via The Guardian)

Documents published in The Intercept detail the top-secret NSA data collection program codenamed SOMALGET. Installed in the cellular network of the Bahamas without the local government's approval, SOMALGET allows the NSA to record and store the full audio of any cellphone call that passes through the network.

It's all part of the NSA's voice recording program, MYSTIC, which was first reported on by The Washington Post several months ago. MYSTIC allows the NSA to collect and store up to 30 days worth of cellphone conversations in a target nation.

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"This allows the NSA to go back 30 days in the past, and look at or listen to phone calls that might have been made by people they didn't know were suspects previously." (Via The Washington Post)

The agency has used something similar against at least one hostile country in the past. A retired NSA official recently told the Los Angeles Times they were "able to collect, sort and make available details of every Iraqi insurgent email, text message and phone-location signal" during the Iraq War.

But it's not quite as clear why the U.S. government might want to listen in on phone calls from an allied country like the Bahamas. The Intercept suggests the NSA might be using the country as a trial run for some of its MYSTIC programs.

Revelations about the NSA's widespread bulk surveillance practices are still roiling the tech community. The CEO of networking giant Cisco recently sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to rein in the agency, following reports that the NSA had intercepted Cisco routers to install surveillance software on them. (Via CNET)

The Intercept report lists five countries where MYSTIC is currently operating: full audio of calls is being stored in the Bahamas and another unnamed country, while metadata is being collected in Mexico, Kenya and the Philippines.

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