Even your private phone data isn’t safe from the NSA

The American agency can access phones from every major manufacturer.


Kris Holt


Published Sep 8, 2013   Updated Jun 1, 2021, 7:06 am CDT

The National Security Agency (NSA) can tap data from every major phone manufacturer, including iPhone, Android and BlackBerry devices, according to classified documents obtained by Der Spiegel.

That includes information from your “contact lists, SMS traffic, notes,” and location data detailing where you’ve been, according to the report. The agency can obtain this data, in part, by hacking into phones via desktop software. Der Spiegel explained:

In the internal documents, experts boast about successful access to iPhone data in instances where the NSA is able to infiltrate the computer a person uses to sync their iPhone. Mini-programs, so-called “scripts,” then enable additional access to at least 38 iPhone features.”

The documents also showed the NSA accessed BlackBerry’s supposedly highly secure mail system. Just last month, the Department of Defense awarded BlackBerry an “authority to operate,” which is the highest level of certification on department networks. That, ZDNet reported, is a key step toward government and military networks using BlackBerry devices in their operations. The company told Der Spiegel there’s no “back door” access to its platform.

The documents indicate the NSA uses targeted snooping on smartphones, rather than broadly vacuuming data.

The report is the latest in a laundry list of the NSA’s surveillance capabilities reported since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked thousands of documents on spying programs earlier this year.

This week, reports emerged that the NSA started partnering with technology companies a decade ago to obtain backdoor access to encrypted information. Meanwhile, the agency apparently forced its way through or around encryption methods used by banking systems, perhaps by cracking a complex math problem.

Photo via sk8geek/Flickr

Share this article
*First Published: Sep 8, 2013, 1:17 pm CDT