Mobile  |  About us  |  Photos  |  Videos  |  Subscriptions  |  RSS Feeds  |  Today's Paper  |  Classifieds  |  Contact Us
The Daily Star
SATURDAY, 19 APR 2014
02:21 AM Beirut time
Weather    
Beirut
22 °C
Blom Index
BLOM
1,214.01down
International
Follow this story Print RSS Feed ePaper share this
Spies use smartphone apps to track people
Associated Press
A man uses his cell phone to read updates about former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden answering users' questions on Twitter in this photo illustration, in Sarajevo, January 23, 2014. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic)
A man uses his cell phone to read updates about former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden answering users' questions on Twitter in this photo illustration, in Sarajevo, January 23, 2014. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic)
A+ A-

LONDON: Documents leaked by former NSA contactor Edward Snowden suggest that spy agencies have a powerful ally in Angry Birds and a host of other apps installed on smartphones across the globe.

The documents, published Monday by The New York Times, the Guardian, and ProPublica, suggest that the mapping, gaming and social networking apps which are a common feature of the world’s estimated 1 billion smartphones can feed America’s National Security Agency and Britain’s GCHQ with huge amounts of personal data, including location information and details such as political affiliation or sexual orientation.

The size and scope of the program aren’t publicly known, but the reports suggest that U.S. and British intelligence easily get routine access to data generated by apps such as the Angry Birds game franchise or the Google Maps navigation service.

The joint spying program “effectively means that anyone using Google Maps on a smartphone is working in support of a GCHQ system,” one 2008 document from the British eavesdropping agency is quoted as saying. Another document – a hand-drawn picture of a smirking fairy conjuring up a tottering pile of papers over a table marked “LEAVE TRAFFIC HERE” – suggests that gathering the data doesn’t take much effort.

The NSA did not directly comment on the reports but said in a statement Monday that the communications of those who were not “valid foreign intelligence targets” were not of interest to the spy agency.

“Any implication that NSA’s foreign intelligence collection is focused on the smartphone or social media communications of everyday Americans is not true,” the statement said. “We collect only those communications that we are authorized by law to collect for valid foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes – regardless of the technical means used by the targets.”

GCHQ said it did not comment on intelligence matters, but insisted that all of its activity was “authorized, necessary and proportionate.”

Intelligence agencies’ interest in mobile phones and the networks they run on has been documented in several of Snowden’s previous disclosures, but the focus on apps shows how everyday, innocuous-looking pieces of software can be turned into instruments of espionage.

Angry Birds, an addictive birds-versus-pigs game which has been downloaded more than 1.7 billion times worldwide, was one of the most eye-catching examples. The Times and ProPublica said a 2012 British intelligence report laid out how to extract Angry Bird users’ information from phones running the Android operating system.

Another document, a 14-page-long NSA slideshow published to the Web, listed a host of other mobile apps, including those made by social networking giant Facebook, photo sharing site Flickr, and the film-oriented Flixster.

It wasn’t clear precisely what information can be extracted from which apps, but one of the slides gave the example of a user who uploaded a photo using a social media app. Under the words, “Golden Nugget!” it said that the data generated by the app could be examined to determine a phone’s settings, where it connected to, which websites it had visited, which documents it had downloaded, and who its users’ friends were. One of the documents said that apps could even be mined for information about users’ political alignment or sexual orientation.

Google Inc. and Rovio Entertainment Ltd., the maker of Angry Birds, did not immediately return messages seeking comment on the reports.

The Times’ Web posting Monday of a censored U.S. document on the smartphone surveillance briefly contained material that appeared to publish the name of an NSA employee. Computer experts said they were able to extract the name of the employee, along with the name of a Middle Eastern terror group the program was targeting and details about the types of computer files the NSA found useful.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 29, 2014, on page 11.
Home International
 
     
 
United States of America / United Kingdom
Advertisement
Comments  

Your feedback is important to us!

We invite all our readers to share with us their views and comments about this article.

Disclaimer: Comments submitted by third parties on this site are the sole responsibility of the individual(s) whose content is submitted. The Daily Star accepts no responsibility for the content of comment(s), including, without limitation, any error, omission or inaccuracy therein. Please note that your email address will NOT appear on the site.

comments powered by Disqus
Story Summary
Documents leaked by former NSA contactor Edward Snowden suggest that spy agencies have a powerful ally in Angry Birds and a host of other apps installed on smartphones across the globe.

The documents, published Monday by The New York Times, the Guardian, and ProPublica, suggest that the mapping, gaming and social networking apps which are a common feature of the world's estimated 1 billion smartphones can feed America's National Security Agency and Britain's GCHQ with huge amounts of personal data, including location information and details such as political affiliation or sexual orientation.

The NSA did not directly comment on the reports but said in a statement Monday that the communications of those who were not "valid foreign intelligence targets" were not of interest to the spy agency.
Related Articles
 
 
Spy agencies deny NSA exploited 'Heartbleed' bug
 
 
Snowden calls for international deal on data surveillance
Congress should investigate U.S. intelligence abuse
 
 
Obama says plan will end NSA bulk data sweep
Entities
Advertisement


Baabda 2014
Advertisement
Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Linked In Follow us on Google+ Subscribe to our Live Feed
Multimedia
Images  
Pictures of the day
A selection of images from around the world- Friday April 18, 2014
View all view all
Advertisement
Rami G. Khouri
Rami G. Khouri
Why Israeli-Palestinian talks fail
Michael Young
Michael Young
Why confuse gibberish with knowledge?
David Ignatius
David Ignatius
Echoes of 1914 characterize the Ukraine crisis
View all view all
Advertisement
cartoon
 
Click to View Articles
 
 
News
Business
Opinion
Sports
Culture
Technology
Entertainment
Privacy Policy | Anti-Spamming Policy | Disclaimer | Copyright Notice
© 2014 The Daily Star - All Rights Reserved - Designed and Developed By IDS