The NSA and Phone Tapping


Former National Security Agency computer contractor for the United States government Edward Snowden, who copied and leaked classified information from NSA, revealed to the world, through the Guardian newspaper, a highly-classified April U.S. court order that allows the government access to all of Verizon’s phone records on a daily basis, for both domestic and international calls. The National Security Agency did not receive the names and addresses of customers. What it did get was all phone numbers with outgoing or incoming calls with the unique electronic numbers that identify cellphones meaning the government will know which phones are being used, even if customers change their numbers. This was the first evidence of a domestic surveillance program that had existed for years, but had only been hinted at previously.

One of Snowden’s later leaks described the NSA’s ability to eavesdrop through the microphones of cellphones even when turned off. This was stunning information not only because NSA was able to turn the microphone on, but they could keep the phone looking like it was powered down. Software installed on the phone can make the phone appear to be shutting down, but it is actually entering a low-power mode that leaves it open to receive commands, importantly one to turn on its microphone. This was accomplished through an intercept of your phone to install software or a bug. They will usually intercept a phone shipment, or sneak into your home or hotel room- spy stuff- they won’t waste their time on non terrorists or criminals. What really would help with data profiling would be the use of speech recognition technology to search, index and transcribe voice communications, and documents.  The Snowden archive describes the capability to turn speech into text, but not the extent of its use.

GCHQ in Cheltenham Government Communications Headquarters

Snowden also identified that USA and British security Government agencies stole the encryption keys that are built into the Sim cards in order to listen in on billions of mobile phone calls from around the world. A Sim (Subscriber Identity Module) card is the small chip within most mobile phones throughout the world that allows the phone to connect securely to the mobile phone service provider. It is the key that logs the user securely into the mobile phone network allowing calls, text and data access while encrypting all the communications going between the mobile phone and the network. The encryption keys allowed the security agencies to descramble the calls, text and data to search for words denoting bomb making or a certain terrorists name- this practice, even though some are afraid of its misuse, has probably saved some lives.

Seriously, one should not be worried about NSA listening to their phone conversations unless they are talking to people from terrorist nations or somehow connected to other types of criminals. NSA has said “it is narrowly focused, aimed only at international calls and targeted at Al-Qaida and related groups.” Why would the NSA be interested in any of your conversations that did not detail criminal activity? I really don’t believe we have the time or the resources to snoop ordinary citizens.