NSA spying: Smartphones, Yahoo lawsuit against government, more

So much NSA spying news, so little time:

• Raise your hand if you thought your smartphone was exempt from all the NSA spying news. No one? We didn’t think so. And so yes, it turns out your smartphone is a goldmine for the NSA, says the latest report, this time from Spiegel Online.

Documents leaked by former U.S. government tech contractor Edward Snowden do not reveal mass spying on smartphone users, but they do indicate that the NSA put its mind to it and figured out how to tap the treasure trove that is the smartphone, Spiegel says.

The information the agency can acess includes selfies, those photos people take of themselves. From Spiegel:

A photo taken in January 2012 is especially risqué: It shows a former senior government official of a foreign country who, according to the NSA, is relaxing on his couch in front of a TV set and taking pictures of himself — with his iPhone. To protect the person’s privacy, SPIEGEL has chosen not to reveal his name or any other details.

The NSA also reportedly can make use of location information, voice mail, etc. Also according to Spiegel: Yhe NSA had a tough time cracking BlackBerry security at first, but it has.

• Like Facebook and other tech companies before it, Yahoo last week released its first transparency report (PDF), which shows how many government requests for user data it receives. (U.S. government requests comprise the bulk of them.) The Sunnyvale company also joins others including Google in suing the U.S. government as it seeks to be allowed to disclose more details about how many of those requests fall under the national-security umbrella.

“We believe that the U.S. Government’s important responsibility to protect public safety can be carried out without precluding Internet companies from sharing the number of national security requests they may receive. Ultimately, withholding such information breeds mistrust and suspicion — both of the United States and of companies that must comply with government legal directives,” Ron Bell, company general counsel, wrote in a blog post disclosing the suit this morning.

The Yahoo revelations come as a journalist who went to prison in 2005 partly because Yahoo gave the Chinese government access to his emails has now been released.

• Other quick links to related report: Restrictions on NSA surveillance were reversed in 2011 because the Office of the Director of National Intelligence pushed for it, the Washington Post reports. And a Brazilian TV station that worked with Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who broke the NSA spying news, reports the following: The U.S. spied on Petrobas, Brazil’s state-run oil company; private Google networks; and the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), which oversees international bank transfers that have been thought to be secure.


Photo: A woman  protests with a self-made surveillance camera on her head over the weekend in Berlin. German newsweekly Der Spiegel reports that the U.S. National Security Agency can access user data on all major smartphones.  (Rainer Jensen/Associated Press)


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