The NSA Spies on You Even When You Play Angry Birds

Illustration for article titled The NSA Spies on You Even When You Play Angry Birds

Newly published slides from the NSA and its UK counterpart GCHQ show that the spy agencies delight in scooping up data from "leaky" smartphone apps. That means that you're being watched when you do everything from playing Angry Birds to uploading Facebook photos.

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What kinds of data, you wonder? Just about everything actually. Using all kinds of special tricks, the NSA and friends have been able to skim everything from people's smartphone identification codes to to their buddy lists to their sexual preferences from mobile apps. They can even tap into your Google Maps history not only to find out where you've been but also where you're planning to go. As one 2008 document put it, the collection effort "effectively means that anyone using Google Maps on a smartphone is working in support of a GCHQ system."

The GCHQ documents actually use Angry Birds, one of the most popular mobile apps in history, as an example of a leaky app that gives them access to troves of user data. Rovio, the company that makes the game, had no idea that spy agencies were using its app to spy on people. Nevertheless, the NSA swears it only uses these techniques on bonafide foreign intelligence targets. The agency said in a statement:

Any implication that NSA's foreign intelligence collection is focused on the smartphone or social media communications of everyday Americans is not true. … 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.

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So they might not be focused on collecting data from the everyday American, but they certainly can. [Guardian, NYT]

Illustration for article titled The NSA Spies on You Even When You Play Angry Birds

Image via Flickr / hilighters

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DISCUSSION

morganrock
Morgan Rock

You guys do understand that by posting this you're violating US law, right? That's what this little part down here means. This stuff is still classified, and you're disseminating it. This is why people who know anything about the US Intel industry/community think that Snowden is an asshole. Are these programs used against US citizens? You guys are saying yourselves, "likely not". So who are you helping here? Well, I suppose anyone the US intelligence industry is aimed at defeating. Sure, let's let everyone know how we do everything. I'm sure that will NEVER change anyone's behaviors or make our guys' jobs harder.

I mean, it's not like these are life and death issues, right?

Edit: Even before people jump in here and say "oh, but they are used against US citizens". Think about what's meant by "against". If you mean US citizens' data is collected = used against, then sure. They may be "used against them". Really though, what is the CIA/NSA/DoD doing with this information? It's using it for either decision-making on where it sends people, target planning, or further actions generally in support of those two things (developing information on people who may lead to the development of a target). If the US suddenly starts "disappearing" people, censoring their speech, swooping in and arresting people, or using this information to somehow subjugate or oppress the American people (hell, I don't even think they prosecute crimes based on any of this), then they are not using this information "against" US citizens. US citizens may be inadvertently helping them to generate lists of targets overseas by many-degrees-separated communications, but unless they're directly involved with some counterintelligence, terrorism, or foreign military plot, they really don't have anything to worry about.

Edit #2: Also, in consideration of the above, if you REALLY wanted to be worried about something, you'd be worried about the FBI collecting data on people. They can actually arrest US citizens, put them in jail, and do all sorts of nastiness against US citizens by their charter. The NSA is a supporting organization to the military. They generally have minimal overlap with any domestic law enforcement efforts. They absolutely can not take any action against (and with this I mean something where you actually get a visit from someone) any US citizen. The FBI, on the other hand, can make your life very miserable. They, everyone should note, already have terrible history of abuse of power (J Edgar Hoover / Commies), and everyone here should absolutely make sure we keep abreast of what's going on with that organization...