The National Security Agency can access data from smartphones, according to Germany’s Spiegel Online.
Google Android and BlackBerry devices, as well as Apple iPhones, are among the smartphones apparently vulnerable to government snooping. Spiegel claims it’s seen top-secret documents that indicate the NSA “has set up specific working groups to deal with each operating system,” with the ultimate goal of “gaining secret access to the data held on the phones.”
“It is not for us to comment on media reports regarding alleged government surveillance of telecommunications traffic,” BlackBerry spokespeople told the German newspaper.
While Spiegel didn’t cite the source of its top-secret documents, it’s likely they came from Edward Snowden, the government whistleblower who conducted an email interview with the newspaper in July. Snowden, who spent the summer leaking sensitive documents about U.S. government surveillance to the media, is currently living in Russia, which granted him political asylum in August.
Snowden’s most explosive revelation, backed by documents provided to The Guardian, was the existence of two massive NSA projects capable of vacuuming up Internet and phone data from pretty much everyone in the world, including Americans. One of those NSA projects, PRISM, allegedly siphons information from the databases of nine major technology companies: Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, and Apple. In emails to Slashdot and other media outlets, as well as postings on their respective corporate blogs, many of these companies have denied involvement with PRISM.
(Those who want to protect their personal data from surveillance can take some relatively simple—although not exactly user-friendly—steps.)
In the weeks and months since Snowden first began his leaking campaign, the U.S. government has pushed back by insisting that, despite the NSA’s impressive capabilities, the agency is still very much subject to aggressive Congressional oversight. But that hasn’t stopped the lively debate over whether the United States is evolving into too much of a surveillance state.
In light of all that, these most recent revelations about the NSA’s supposed smartphone surveillance are fairly unsurprising—after all, wouldn’t the world’s arguably most sophisticated spy agency have the ability to pretty much break into any phone it wants? That’s why terrorists tend to stay off electronic devices as much as possible when communicating with one another (one of the reasons it took so long to find Osama bin Laden, for example, was his preference for using human couriers over email or phone for messaging). People aren’t worried about the government’s technological capabilities—it’s what the government does with those capabilities that can keep civil-liberties lawyers awake long into the night.
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