Privacy Scandal: NSA Can Spy on Smart Phone Data
SPIEGEL has learned from internal NSA documents that the US intelligence agency has the capability of tapping user data from the iPhone, devices using Android as well as BlackBerry, a system previously believed to be highly secure.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a BlackBerry Z10 smart phone: Will the company face a setback following claims the NSA can spy on its phones?
The United States' National Security Agency intelligence-gathering operation is capable of accessing user data from smart phones from all leading manufacturers. Top secret NSA documents that SPIEGEL has seen explicitly note that the NSA can tap into such information on Apple iPhones, BlackBerry devices and Google's Android mobile operating system.
The documents state that it is possible for the NSA to tap most sensitive data held on these smart phones, including contact lists, SMS traffic, notes and location information about where a user has been.
The documents also indicate that the NSA has set up specific working groups to deal with each operating system, with the goal of gaining secret access to the data held on the phones.
In the internal documents, experts boast about successful access to iPhone data in instances where the NSA is able to infiltrate the computer a person uses to sync their iPhone. Mini-programs, so-called "scripts," then enable additional access to at least 38 iPhone features.
The documents suggest the intelligence specialists have also had similar success in hacking into BlackBerrys. A 2009 NSA document states that it can "see and read SMS traffic." It also notes there was a period in 2009 when the NSA was temporarily unable to access BlackBerry devices. After the Canadian company acquired another firm the same year, it changed the way in compresses its data. But in March 2010, the department responsible at Britain's GCHQ intelligence agency declared in a top secret document it had regained access to BlackBerry data and celebrated with the word, "champagne!"
The documents also state that the NSA has succeeded in accessing the BlackBerry mail system, which is known to be very secure. This could mark a huge setback for the company, which has always claimed that its mail system is uncrackable.
In response to questions from SPIEGEL, BlackBerry officials stated, "It is not for us to comment on media reports regarding alleged government surveillance of telecommunications traffic." The company said it had not programmed a "'back door' pipeline to our platform."
The material viewed by SPIEGEL suggests that the spying on smart phones has not been a mass phenomenon. It has been targeted, in some cases in an individually tailored manner and without the knowledge of the smart phone companies.
Correction: The original version of this news story was adapted from a SPIEGEL press release on Saturday that did not include information attributing the March 2010 document cited in the original to Britain's GCHQ intelligence agency. This important information has been added, and the full English version of the article has since been posted online.
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