British Intelligence Agencies Scour Phone Apps for Personal Data
Secret British intelligence documents have revealed that the country’s security agencies are scouring phone apps to get the user’s location, age, sex and other personal information. According to The New York Times, when a user opens Angry Birds and starts playing the hit slinging birds game, the app snatches user’s personal data and sends it to spy agencies without the user’s knowledge.
Many undisclosed classified documents have also revealed that these so-called ‘leaky apps’ spew everything from users’ smartphone identification codes to where they have been that day. The documents show that the N.S.A. and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters routinely obtain information from certain apps, particularly some of those introduced earliest to cellphones. With some newer apps, including Angry Birds, the agencies have a similar capability, but they do not make explicit whether the spies have put that into practice.
According to the documents, the N.S.A. and the British agency have been working together on how to collect and store data from dozens of smartphone apps since 2007. The source notes that these new documents have been provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.
“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.”
One of the intelligence documents says that spies can scrub smartphone apps that contain details like a user’s “political alignment” and sexual orientation. The British spy agency declined to comment on any specific program, but said all its activities complied with British law.