Friedman , a technology expert at Brookings, for helping make sense of these various categories. The phrase "comprehensive communications routing information" is a catch-all term for the kinds of information the court empowered the NSA to collect.
The term itself does not describe specific data and is fairly broad in terms of what it can include. According to Friedman, it might include, for example, data tracking how a cell phone user moves from one cell phone tower to another while traveling — information that would obviously be useful for tracking the whereabouts of an individual. The IMSI number is a system through which an individual user is tied to a phone. According to Friedman, the system was conceived as a way of facilitating billing for mobile users, essentially giving cell phone comapnies the ability to track customers through identifying codes.
Unless the NSA managed to get its hands on that information through clandestine channels, it would probably have to return to court to obtain the information.
The IMSI number also provides important geographic information on the user. It is typically found in the battery compartment of a phone and, according to Friedman, is a system that was put in place in order to prevent cell phone "spoofing" — or the practice of cloning one phone to imitate another. When one phone begins broadcasting using the same IMEI number as another, a network can detect a spoof.
For the purposes of the NSA, the number is extremely useful in tracking individual pieces of equipment. The trunk identifier provides additional data on how a call is routed through a telephone system and where it originated. In a landline system, for example, the trunk identifier can be used to identify the regional center through which a call is routed.
A useful method for preventing calls from being tracked to a specific number, telephone calling cards can be used to mask the origins of a phone call. If for example, I were to call you from Foreign Policy headquarters using a calling card number, my call would not come up as originating from FP but rather from the number associated with the card. By collecting calling card numbers, Friedman explained, the NSA can at least begin to track the use of such numbers across different phones.
This approach is, of course, easily counteracted by using different calling cards, but it allows the NSA to build up a network from which it can mine the information it seeks.
The FISA court order contains a mysterious "etc. Could the NSA perhaps be empowered to also collect what mobile phone users browse and download on the Internet under the authority of an "etc.
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