According to documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ, are working on ways to use weak security for smartphone games like Angry Birds to spy on people. The games contain information both about the phone being used and the user – location, gender, age – which would allow the spy agencies to track someone and run the information they suck out through their surveillance infrastructure.
Scooping up information the apps are sending about their users allows the agencies to collect large quantities of mobile phone data from their existing mass surveillance tools – such as cable taps, or from international mobile networks – rather than solely from hacking into individual mobile handsets.
Exploiting phone information and location is a high-priority effort for the intelligence agencies, as terrorists and other intelligence targets make substantial use of phones in planning and carrying out their activities, for example by using phones as triggering devices in conflict zones. The NSA has cumulatively spent more than $1bn in its phone targeting efforts.
Terrorists love them some Angry Birds apparently.
The reality, of course, is the NSA and friends just want everything. People are communicating and we can’t see it? Unacceptable. If the War on Terror didn’t exist these people would have to invent it.
Tracking mobile photos is also a major priority for the NSA, though social media sites often strip those photos of metadata eventually, the NSA is looking for ways to get the information before it is removed. They also suck out sensitive personal information a user might not want people to know.
In practice, most major social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, strip photos of identifying location metadata (known as EXIF data) before publication. However, depending on when this is done during upload, such data may still, briefly, be available for collection by the agencies as it travels across the networks.
Depending on what profile information a user had supplied, the documents suggested, the agency would be able to collect almost every key detail of a user’s life: including home country, current location (through geolocation), age, gender, zip code, martial status – options included “single”, “married”, “divorced”, “swinger” and more – income, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education level, and number of children.
So your life is increasingly on the web and here lie the spiders. Whether the NSA was given the legal power to become a 21st century Stasi may be a complicated issue, but whether they in fact are one seems beyond dispute. Partly this is due to the changing nature of technology that throws more and more personal information into accessible places, but primarily it is due to the insatiable lust by the national security state to know everything about everyone to maintain and expand its power.
A rather horrifying combination.