NSA nominee: Patriot Act may allow cell phone tracking

The Patriot Act may have given the federal government powers to use cell phone data to track Americans inside the United States, the general counsel for the National Security Agency said on Tuesday.

The Wall Street Journal quotes Matthew Olsen, who has been nominated to lead the National Counterterrorism Center, as saying it is possible.

"There are certain circumstances where that authority may exist," Olsen told the Senate Intelligence Committee at his confirmation hearing.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has been looking for this answer for weeks. He asked Olsen whether the government has the authority to "use cell site data to track the location of Americans inside the country."

"It is a very complicated question," Olsen said, and added that the intelligence community is working on a memo with a better answer for the committee.

Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked for the memo in time for the committee's first hearing in September.

Wyden and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said in May they feared the Justice Department had interpreted the Patriot Act in a way that enabled domestic surveillance.

"Americans would be alarmed if they knew how this law is being carried out," Udall said at the time.