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Cellphone conversations long have been much easier to intercept than ones conducted on traditional telephones because the signals are broadcast through the air, making for easy collection. Police scanners and even some older televisions once were able to routinely pick up people talking on their cellphones, as a Florida couple did in 1996 when they recorded an overheard conversation involving then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Reportedly ISP believe the special device can be an important tool in combating terrorism or fighting crime, but civil libertarians may not be so sure there will not be abuse of the technology.
The document does not make clear if the encryption in another major cellphone technology — called CDMA and used by Verizon, Sprint and a small number of foreign companies — has been broken by the NSA as well. The document also does not specify whether the NSA can decode data flows from cellular devices, which typically are encrypted using different technology.
To do as much, Appelbaum added, the intelligence agency has
deployed an intricate system of tools and tactics which could
eavesdrop not just by hacking into computers with viruses, but by
outfitting machines with miniature, remote-controlled bugs and in
some instances by relying on beams of radio waves to help
identify sensitive information sent across systems. Routinely, he
explained, the NSA takes advantage of flaws in computer code.
Otherwise, however, documents suggest they’ve opened shipping
containers and installed their own, stealthy spy chips into the
computers of targets.
If anyone outside of the NSA is aware of what’s going on,
Appelbaum said, then it’s like the tech industry players whose
devices contain exploits known to governments like the US.
“It’s only surveillance if after they collect it and record
it to a database and analyze it with machines, only if I think an
NSA agent basically looks at it personally and then clicks ‘I
have looked at this do they call it surveillance,” Appelbaum
said. “Fundamentally, I really object to that.”