DOJ official: No 'legal impediment' to tracking every phone in US

A top Justice Department official said on Wednesday he believes the government could legally track the location of every cellphone in the United States.

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"I don't believe there would be a legal impediment," Deputy Attorney General James Cole said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. "But the legal impediments are not the only issue you take into account here."

Cole was responding to questioning from Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) about the scope of the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

The NSA has acknowledged that it uses the provision to collect records on virtually all U.S. phone calls. The records include phone numbers, call times and call duration, but not the contents of the conversations. 

"If Americans' phone records are relevant, how about our credit card records, what sites we go on on the Internet, what we may bookmark, our medical records if we have it on our computer, our firearms records?" Leahy asked. 

The NSA has not disclosed what other records are being collected under Section 215 aside from the phone data. But Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said the government is not currently using the program to gather cellphone location data and that he would notify Congress if the government were to ever collect such information.

Cole noted that a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that the government can collect historical cellphone location data without a search warrant.