Although the U.S. government probably wants us to think it’s yesterday’s news, last month NBC News broadcast an exclusive hour-long interview with Brian Williams and the most wanted man in the world—Edward Snowden—in his first ever American television interview. In case you missed it (it ran at 10 p.m. EST on Weds. May 28), the full interview is available at NBCnews.com. Among the highlights, Snowden explains that any advanced government intelligence service can take over your cell phone, regardless of whether it’s a smartphone, a prepaid “disposable” phone, and regardless of whether it’s even turned on!
The NSA, the Russians, the Chinese—any intelligence service in the world that has significant funding, and a real technological research team—can own [any] phone the minute it connects to their network. As soon as you turn it on, it can be theirs. They can turn it into a microphone, they can take pictures from it, they can take the data off of it.
The clip containing that quote starts at 1:46 of Part 3. According to this story at CNN Money, Snowden’s claim—that the government can actually power up a device that’s turned off—isn’t entirely accurate, but it isn’t far off either. And the things that the NSA can do with your phone are just as creepy. The only way to truly prevent the NSA from commandeering your mobile device is to remove the battery. But wait, many phones—including the iPhone—don’t have removable batteries. In that case, you can secure your device by putting it into recovery mode (detailed instructions are also included in the CNN story).
Critics to the government’s current technological capabilities argue that the average American shouldn’t be concerned, unless they have something to hide. Snowden has a compelling rebuttal to that argument as well (also in Part 3). Besides, NSA spies only use this kind of technology to hunt down specific, known terrorists and enemy combatants. For now. But according to the same CNN Money story, the NSA isn’t the only U.S. government agency that’s availed itself of this kind of technology: The FBI is also using these kinds of surveillance tactics right here in the U.S., for all sorts of crimes.
If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place, but if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines including Google do retain this information for some time, and it’s important, for example that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act. It is possible that that information could be made available to the authorities.
– Eric Schmidt
Regardless of what side of the Snowden conversation you are on, the NBC interview is must-see-TV for anybody with an interest in privacy, the U.S. Constitution, or our government’s past, present, and future.