Documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden suggest that US and British spy agencies have used smartphone apps to gather users' personal data. The targeted apps include the popular Angry Birds game and Google Maps.
The documents, published Monday by The New York Times, the Guardian and ProPublica suggest that Washington's National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have targeted mapping, gaming, and social networking smartphone apps to gain access to huge amounts of personal data.
The news outlets were citing previously undisclosed intelligence documents made available by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Snowden is living in asylum in Russia and faces espionage charges in the US after disclosing details of the NSA's massive surveillance programs last year.
According to the reports, the NSA and GCHQ have worked together to find ways to target "leaky" phone apps on smartphones that could disclose users' locations, age and gender among other personal information.
The size and scope of the program was not clear, but the reports suggest that both spy agencies routinely get access to data generated by apps such as the popular Angry Birds game, a franchise that has been downloaded 1.7 billion times worldwide. The documents also revealed the Google Maps navigation service as a target.
Snowden's revelations sparked a firestorm of criticism at home and abroad and prompted US President Barack Obama to announce intelligence-gathering reforms on Jan. 17, which include limits on the collection of telephone data and a ban on eavesdropping on the leaders of close allies.
In response to the reports, GCHQ said it did not comment on intelligence matters, but said all of its activity was "authorized, necessary and proportionate."
White House spokesman Jay Carney told a regular White House news conference Monday that US surveillance agencies were only interested in collecting data on people considered a threat to the US.
"To the extent data is collected by the NSA through whatever means, we are not interested in the communications of people who are not valid foreign intelligence targets, and we are not after the information of ordinary Americans," he said.
hc/ccp (Reuters, AP)