The National Security Agency can and will access your cell phone data if you happen to be a suspected terrorist. If you want to avoid detection: first, don't be a terrorist; and second, don't use an iPhone, Android or Blackberry. No phone is safe.
The German newspaper Der Spiegel reports new documents show the NSA has specific teams set up to crack and hack their way into the three most popular smartphones on the market. The agency can now access, "contact lists, SMS traffic, notes and location information about where a user has been," on these phones, the paper reports. The NSA only participates in specific, targeted cell phone tracking, Der Spiegel notes. There is not a wide-spread epidemic of the NSA accessing your Snapchat history. You have to be a terrorist before the spies will access your phone.
It should be noted that none of the cell phone makers cooperated with the NSA. This is a plain case of government hackers cracking phones to access information because they're tracking a bad guy. There are occasionally times when the phone companies will change how their data is processed, though, unknowingly throwing a monkey wrench into the NSA's operation. Unfortunately it doesn't take long before their teams gain access to information again:
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, it changed the way in compresses its data. But in March 2010, the department responsible declared it had regained access to BlackBerry data and celebrated with the word, "champagne!"
They could have celebrated with a more appropriate drink, like a Labatt Blue.
Recently, two American Guardian reporters, the paper primarily responsible with leaking NSA documents, discovered a mystery app on their iPhones. It has no title, no identifying image, and serves no function they can notice. It only recently appeared on their phones. They have no idea where it came from:
One follower asked James Ball whether he downloaded any apps that were not available in the app store recently. "I haven't," he replied. The mystery remains unsolved. Does that prove it's the NSA tracking his phone? Of course not. The only thing those pictures prove is a Guardian reporter plays something called "bad piggies." The invisible app is likely nothing. But, still, invisible apps.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.