New Snowden Revelation: NSA, GCHQ Look Through Apps To Find Personal Data

Credit: thethreesisters / Foter.com / CC BYCredit: thethreesisters / Foter.com / CC BYAccording to reporting from The New York Times, the NSA and the British GCHQ have been gathering information on individuals from smartphone apps.

From The New York Times:

The N.S.A. and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters were working together on how to collect and store data from dozens of smartphone apps by 2007, according to the documents, provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor. Since then, the agencies have traded recipes for grabbing location and planning data when a target uses Google Maps, and for vacuuming up address books, buddy lists, phone logs and the geographic data embedded in photos when someone sends a post to the mobile versions of Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter and other services.

The eavesdroppers’ pursuit of mobile networks has been outlined in earlier reports, but the secret documents, shared by The New York Times, The Guardian and ProPublica, offer far more details of their ambitions for smartphones and the apps that run on them. The efforts were part of an initiative called “the mobile surge,” according to a 2011 British document, an analogy to the troop surges in Iraq and Afghanistan. One N.S.A. analyst’s enthusiasm was evident in the breathless title — “Golden Nugget!” — given to one slide for a top-secret 2010 talk describing iPhones and Android phones as rich resources, one document notes.

The New York Times mentions one document that highlights the sort of information spy agencies can obtain through examining apps:

A secret 2012 British intelligence document says that spies can scrub smartphone apps that contain details like a user’s “political alignment” and sexual orientation.

More from Reason.com on the NSA here.

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  • ||

    Yeah, but Candy Crush was free. Free!

  • Sevo||

    And worth every penny!

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    First comment I see:

    Did everyone miss what may be the key point here: "Some personal data, developed in profiles by advertising companies, could be particularly sensitive." The government agencies are vacuuming up information developed by advertising agencies and lurking in our communications and apps--they aren't developing that information themselves. And at least for now, only the advertising agencies are using the information every single day to track us; the government agencies are storing more data than they can possibly use. Who's the master we should fear most?

    Gee, I don't know, I'm definitely scared of the guys who want to sell me ED drugs. The IRS and the DOJ don't scare me at all.

  • Sevo||

    "Who's the master we should fear most?"
    Either from a professional victim or a brain-dead lefty.

  • RightNut||

    Who's the master we should fear most?

    Maybe the guys who can legally put a gun to my head?

  • 110 Lean||

    Who's the master we should fear most?

    I don't need no fucking master.

  • Brett L||

    Who's the master...?

    I am

  • John||

    Nerfherder you don't understand. Once we get rid of evil capitalist corporations then we can worry about government privacy. But as long as you want capitalism, then you have no right to object to the government spying on you.

    Signed/

    Prog hack.

  • Hyperion||

    Yeah, well just wait, mister, and see how you're talkin when Walmart executives smash down your door in the middle of the night and shoot your puppy cause you didn't take advantage of their Sunday super duper sale.

    Should have bought that toaster oven that you didn't really need, no?

  • ||

    No one needs a toaster oven.

  • Hyperion||

    You didn't build that toaster oven!

  • Sevo||

    But the SCOTUS says you better buy it or pay a fine!

  • Mock-star||

    If you like your toaster oven, you can keep it.

  • Zeb||

    That is what really puzzles me the most about the anti-corporate lefty crowd. How does anyone figure that companies collecting information so they can advertise to you is more of a threat than government monitoring you so they can do whatever the fuck they want to you?

  • ||

    Progressives aren't worried about government doing whatever the fuck it wants to you because they believe being progressive is right and virtuous and would never be at odds with the government in any serious way, so they consider themselves immune to any ill effects. Besides, they want government to have the ability to come down like a hammer on non-progressives. They also believe advertisements are irresistible forces which can make you buy things that could circumvent or directly oppose progressive ideals. Therefore, government: good, corporations: bad. No further thought necessary.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Because they will use their sinister advertising to control your brain, Zeb!

  • GILMORE||

    Profit

  • GILMORE||

    Seriously though = the "evil" that they see in 'corporations' is that they MAKE MONEY.

    Government can do all sorts of evil shit...but since no one benefits, it isn't all that bad! Bad things happen when people make money.

    It sounds ridiculous, but I swear to god, some people seem to think the profit motive is the Singular Force For Evil in the universe.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Edward Snowden:

    Doing more to advance the cause of liberty than the entire federal government.

  • Paul.||

    Well, that's not hard.

  • Hyperion||

    Yeah, I only sat at my desk at home, and did a couple of simple reports today for work, and that advanced the cause of liberty more than the government has for the last 100 years.

  • John||

    So much for the claim that they were only collecting phone numbers and trap and trace data. Anyone want to take a stab at explaining how that Maryland case that said the police could put a trap and trace device on someone's phone means that they can now look at all of the pictures and data in your smartphone?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    They only need that capability so they can verify that none of the pics on your phone are of underage kids in your bathtub, you prevert.

  • Hyperion||

    Nuh uh. The data is most useful when an NSA employee wants to make sure her boyfriend ain't wonkin his cousin while she's at work.

  • Dweebston||

    That sounds... really specific, Hyp.

  • John||

    I love this

    President Obama announced new restrictions this month to better protect the privacy of ordinary Americans and foreigners from government surveillance, including limits on how the N.S.A. can view “metadata” of Americans’ phone calls — the routing information, time stamps and other data associated with calls.

    Anyone with an ounce of knowledge of the field who has read the EO could tell you Obama didn't restrict anything. But whatever you do NYT, don't let the facts keep you from kissing Obama's ass and acting like he is anything but a big part of the problem here.

  • Tonio||

    I wonder if we could get the soccer moms all riled up about government tracking their precious little snowflakes?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Nope. Too easily scared by the sex offender maps available online. And especially of that one guy who got caught peeing on the interstate shoulder.

  • From the Tundra||

    Not if it's about keeping the little snowflakes safe, unfortunately.

  • Hyperion||

    This.

    1 snowflake + 1 soccer mom = recipe for tyranny.

  • John||

    All we need is one case of a pedophile working at NSA and using phone tracking data to find kids to molest and funding for NSA would be zeroed out within the month.

  • sarcasmic||

    I'm sure that if anything like that happened the information would be classified. Can't harm the public trust, you know.

  • The Original Jason||

    State Secrets, you know. Can't let someone suing the government know that a government employee neglected performing the required maintenance on a government owned plane before it crashed or that a government employee used a government computer to find information on a kid in a government database.

  • Paul.||

    No, the NSA would receive expanded funding to combat this, with a new super-duper oversight agency.

  • Rasilio||

    No, we're MUCH more likely to get a story (true or not) about their finding a pedophile from tracing his apps and then passing that info on to the FBI

  • Pulseguy||

    yeah, except the whole point of it is we would never know, even if they found someone doing that.

  • Paul.||

    Tracking their snowflakes would be a feature, not a bug. Biden 2016!

  • np||

    One N.S.A. analyst’s enthusiasm was evident in the breathless title — “Golden Nugget!” — given to one slide for a top-secret 2010 talk describing iPhones and Android phones as rich resources, one document notes.

    Blackphone announced with more details coming on Feb 24 at the Mobile World Congress:
    http://www.zdnet.com/blackphon.....000025185/

  • ||

    Wow, that's pretty cool. I smell a "patent infringement" lawsuit coming, followed shortly thereafter by an injunction. And then a droning.

  • GILMORE||

    the SOP for the last decade is for 'terrorists' to use pre-paid cellphones and dispose of them frequently

    The NSA et al aren't gathering this data because it has any relationship to 'national security'. They gather this data BECAUSE THEY CAN. Because they want to explore ways to use it. because they have no other purpose other than to find keyholes and peep into them.

  • John||

    I would agree but would make one tweak. They gather data because that is all they know how to do. Part of what is going on here is that the politicians and various political hacks are unwilling to admit the truth that there isn't some magic solution to stopping terrorism. So the politicians pretend they can protect the public by putting the intelligence community top men. Of course the intelligence community was designed to spy on nations not figure out which people are terrorists. So they don't know what the fuck to do. So they do what they have always done; collect. Just collect every bit of information they can. If all of that information is useless, who cares? They can say they collected and that will allow the politicals to pretend they are doing something.

    It is fantasy and theater all the way down.

  • John||

    “Golden Nugget!” — given to one slide for a top-secret 2010 talk describing iPhones and Android phones as rich resources, one document notes.

    That is really telling. Rich resources for what? They don't now. They don't know how to do anything but collect information. The idea that it has to be relevant never enters their mind. It is the sort of magical thinking that is all too common.

  • CE||

    If you have everyone's data, you can use it against them later when they are arrested for who knows what, or when they know someone who was arrested for who knows what, to get them to provide more details for the prosecution of their friends. Or for political blackmail, or whatever.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I saw a blurb the other day about how Amazon thinks they can start shipping us things we haven't even ordered yet, but that isn't very impressive, come to think of it, if the NSA can tell who needs to be searched with or without establishing any kind of probable cause.

  • Hyperion||

    Amazon thinks they can start shipping us things we haven't even ordered yet

    Sending people stuff that they haven't paid for yet sounds pretty brilliant.

  • Paul.||

    Sending people stuff that they haven't paid for yet

    Considering they have my credit card on file, that's arguable.

  • John||

    If they start sending me shit I didn't order, they won't have it on file for long.

  • Paul.||

    Mos def.

  • CE||

    There used to be music and book companies that did this. Buy 10 records for 99 cents, and we'll send you one every month for the rest of your life, and bill you. Buy this book for 9.99, and we'll send you a completely unrelated book at full list price for the rest of your life.

    I wrote back and said thanks for the gift after the first one, and didn't get any more.

  • GILMORE||

    pppt. My local Chinese food take out place has been doing this for DECADES. They must have people randomly biking around the neighborhood with Kung Pao chicken and beef lo mein and then you call the place and BOOM they're at your door before you hang up the phone. Its uncanny.

  • GILMORE||

    "Ken Shultz|1.27.14 @ 2:23PM|#

    I saw a blurb the other day about how Amazon thinks they can start shipping us things we haven't even ordered"

    This isn't nearly as bizarre as it sounds.

    Its simply an extension of the 'just-in-time' logistics/supply-chain model used in modern Brick-And-Mortar retail applied to a virtualized 'web-retail' model... where the goods available for purchase are *already moving* in the supply/delivery chain as opposed to sitting static in regional hub warehouses. These systems have gotten so efficient that they've reduced the inventory time to *less than it takes to actually ship*, so at a certain point, 'shipping' the product prior to sale actually makes sense. Shipment is already baked into the retail price of the product in most cases, so there is in fact potential savings to be captured for the retailer by keeping certain high-turnover goods "perpetually in motion" rather than warehoused.

    The term 'shipping' really isn't even applicable in some sense. You're just buying a product out of an ongoing logistics stream. The 'last mile' the product travels to get to your actual door is really when the only additional costs are incurred.

  • AlmightyJB||

    This people should be going to jail.

  • Paul.||

    But which?

  • AlmightyJB||

    Looks like probably everyone involved in domestic spying.

  • Tim||

    I knew it. Candy Crush is a crowd sourced code breaking algorithmn. I thought I was lining up lemons and oranges but the the macro effect of 100 million people doing it daily is that we are breaking into Chinese banks and Russian nuke silos.

  • The Other Kevin||

    One N.S.A. analyst’s enthusiasm was evident in the breathless title — “Golden Nugget!” — given to one slide for a top-secret 2010 talk describing iPhones and Android phones as rich resources, one document notes.

    Personally, I'm waiting to hear about the slide with the breathless title "Terrorist caught planting bomb". I will probably be waiting for a long time.

  • CE||

    No, they catch terrorists planting bombs all the time. After they identify the mentally weak individual, provide him the plan, loan him a car, and set him up with phony bomb-making materials. I feel so much safer now.

  • PD Scott||

    Unless the terrorist posts a selfie of himself and the bomb on Instagram, yes.

  • kenezen||

    More proof that Socialism with control from a Central source prevails.The State of the Union will have misdirection, blame on everybody else, and threats to take Chavez like action to make singular control of Government possible. We are getting way too far into a Central Government that wants full control. American must stop this by not strongly supporting these action.The proof that Central Government is using private information for purposes of control is now overwhelming.

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