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Latest Snowden leaks claim NSA data collection from 'leaky' apps

updated 03:21 pm EST, Mon January 27, 2014

NSA,GCHQ allegedly claimed to collect information on individuals from mobile advertising

Intelligence agencies in the United States and the United Kingdom are allegedly taking advantage of smartphone apps to collect a wealth of information about individuals, in new spying allegations. The National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) are able to use the "leaky" nature of popular mobile phone apps to extract information about an individual, according to new leaked documents.

Classified documents passed by whistleblower Edward Snowden to the Guardian, as well as to the New York Times and ProPublica, detail how apps share personal information openly over the Internet, with the information ranging from the model and screen size of the device, to age, gender, location, and marital status. Called the "mobile surge" in documents, it is also suggested that the NSA and GCHQ could also ascertain the education level, the number of children, the ethnicity, and also the sexual orientation of the intended target.

Slide from NSA document, dated May 2010
Slide from NSA document, dated May 2010


Similar to an earlier leak over monitoring via online advertising, Angry Birds is used as an example for how much the agencies can gather from mobile advertising networks, with one special edition of Angry Birds being singled out for using a mobile ad platform that transmits far more than the basic details required for displaying an advertisement. Rovio, the developer of Angry Birds, was unaware of any governmental data extraction from third-party advertising networks.

One set of documents from GCHQ, dating back to May 2010, appear to show a collection of tools that could be used for more intrusive on-device monitoring. Slides for iOS and Android detail the tools, parodying the names of characters from the TV show The Smurfs, which could be installed onto smartphones as spyware, without the user's knowledge. "Tracker Smurf" would provide geolocation data back to GCHQ, "Dreamy Smurf" would allow the remote activation of a device, and "Nosey Smurf" could let the agencies listen in to nearby conversations by activating the microphone.

Slide from GCHQ document showing
Slide from GCHQ document showing 'Smurf' tools, dated May 2010


The continuing leaks over the way the NSA and other intelligence agencies collect and use the data relating to individuals forced President Barack Obama to defend the use of such techniques, at the same time as outlining a number of reforms to the activities. Rather than banning specific practices, the reforms included the need for collected data to be held by a third party instead of the government, more stringent checks before data can be accessed, and the need for advocates to be present when requests are made to the FISA Court.

It also appears that the intelligence agencies could come under new pressure, with Snowden suggesting there are more leaks to be released in the future. In an interview with ARD TV, Snowden claims the NSA's surveillance extends further than national security and into the realm of industrial espionage, reports Reuters. After citing Siemens as a target, Snowdem revealed "If there's information at Siemens that's beneficial to US national interests - even if it doesn't have anything to do with national security - then they'll take that information nevertheless." Snowden also claimed he no longer held any documents on NSA activities, with all the information now possessed by a number of journalists, and that he had no control over the future publication of such information.



By Electronista Staff
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Comments

  1. coffeetime

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 11-15-06

    Does he ever stop and move on? He probably needs attention.

  1. papito

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 03-24-09

    I hope that he never stops! The public needs to know these unfair practices.

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    Originally Posted by coffeetimeView Post

    Does he ever stop and move on? He probably needs attention.



    :shake:

  1. coffeetime

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 11-15-06

    Snowden is living in Russian, right? Guess who is spying him now?

  1. coffeetime

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 11-15-06

    One wrong move, Snowden will win a free trip (one-way) to Siberia.

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    coffeetime, do you live in the United States?

    Have you even the *slightest* idea what this is actually about?

    Like, even the tiniest ****ing inkling?

  1. coffeetime

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 11-15-06

    @Spheric H. Yes, I do live in U.S. Yes, I do know who he is. Now he's a defector. And under Russians Government's roof, he does what they told just to stir any panicky among us. Should I take his word seriously? Maybe, maybe not.

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    No, I don't mean whether you know who he is.

    I meant whether you have any clue what this is about. It's not about him.
    And you don't have to take his word. Your government has pretty much confirmed virtually all the published transgressions and illegal activity.

    And calling him a "defector" makes it sounds like you've missed the last twenty years.

    He did in fact "defect" from your government and switch sides to the population, whose rights and basic freedoms have been systematically violated for decades.

    That he's ended up in Russia was not his choice. He applied in several countries, including Germany — your staunch ally. So allied, in fact, that our government is way too complicit in your government's criminal dealings to be able to offer him asylum.

  1. coffeetime

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 11-15-06

    Spheric, I see what you mean.

  1. YangZone

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 05-24-00

    Snowden has never leaked a single document. 9 months ago he gave a set of documents (many revealing government overreach and unconstitutional invasion of peoples privacy) to a select few journalists and asked them to be careful in what they published from those documents as they are highly classified and could cause harm. The journalists at the Guardian reveal the content as they see fit. They leak it.
    He could have easily uploaded the whole set but he preferred to have it done responsibly.

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    So, erm, what do you call the process by which he "gave" those secred documents to the journalists at Der Spiegel and the Guardian, KNOWING that they would be published?

    Snowden never "leaked"; he "shared". Okay.

    You call it twelve, I call it a dozen. Fine.

  1. YangZone

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 05-24-00

    @spheric In terms of the service Mr Snowden has provided there is an important distinction. Select stories are being leaked *by journalists* at the Guardian and NYT. The term leak is generally interpreted as being *revealed to the public.* This distinction is critical to public perception and ignoring it aides the NSA in branding Mr Snowden as "a traitor." Mr Snowden clearly instructed the journalists not to reveal anything that was not in the public interest.

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    "Leaked" is commonly used in the phrase "leaked to the press", knowing that that would effectively make the information public.

    The press IS the public. That is its function in a working democracy. To ensure that this would be the case, Snowden leaked to select US, UK, and German media, knowing that the chances of the information NOT going public due to government pressure upon the "free" press would be almost zero.

    I disagree that this is a semantic argument, and even if you had a point, it doesn't make a difference to what he's done, and what's happening with the information. He broke his vow to silence and passed on the documents, whether directly onto the internet, or for release through journalists.

    He just chose to have the information brokered through professionals capable of interpreting and providing context, which made the individual revelations much more effective.

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