The common perception of how government agencies use technology is pretty much in line to what people see in the movies. There are high-tech computers that cull billions or trillions of bits of data in seconds, laser eye scanners, powerful satellites that see inside walls and so on. Unfortunately, what’s seen in movies is just that, imagination.
This is especially true with the secretive National Security Agency. The NSA is in charge with following and compiling data on individuals that may be major security risks. While the surveillance agency certainly uses advanced technology, it also has relied on the technology of the biggest telecommunications corporations in operation.
Under special national security agreements, the NSA has tapped into the lines of all the major telephony players. Not only have they tapped into actual fiber-optic phone cables, usually at major transfer centers on the coasts to intercept international calls, but also the digital networks of phone companies that manage cellular phones.
The convergence of technology has allowed most telecommunications companies to offer more than one service, and now feature telephony along with Internet access and cable television. Agents from the NSA can easily monitor the movements of users across the Internet spectrum of every telecom giant. They can study online correspondence like email and chat, as well as browsing habits to certain websites that have been flagged because of questionable content. They might be even able to get into websites like http://www.direct.tv and the like to see your entertainment activities.
Satellites and GPS
To help manage their networks, especially with cellphones and GPS tracking, telecom corporations own or lease satellites. Having access to these satellites allows surveillance agencies like the NSA to follow pings that track the location of cell phones and the movements of suspicious individuals that might be traveling with GPS devices.
While it can be assured that the NSA headquarters are a boon for futuristic technology, so are the offices of telecom carriers that produce them. That is why the NSA has even set up shop in some telecom offices in closed-off rooms.
To catch the bad guys, agencies like the NSA use the best resources, wherever they are.