Steve Jobs Is 'Big Brother' And Smartphone Users Are 'Zombies,' According To NSA Cell Phone Tapping Presentation

from the the-NSA-hates-you-for-your-freedom dept

Just in case you’re not convinced the intelligence community views the public (American or otherwise) as little more than exploitable data generators, two paragraphs from Der Spiegel’s full article on the NSA’s cell phone exploits should do the trick.

The first deals with former NSA boss Michael Hayden and his iPhone experience.

Michael Hayden has an interesting story to tell about the iPhone. He and his wife were in an Apple store in Virginia, Hayden, the former head of the United States National Security Agency (NSA), said at a conference in Washington recently. A salesman approached and raved about the iPhone, saying that there were already “400,000 apps” for the device. Hayden, amused, turned to his wife and quietly asked: “This kid doesn’t know who I am, does he? Four-hundred-thousand apps means 400,000 possibilities for attacks.”

What most people would view as a feature list, the NSA views as a way to turn a person’s phone into an informant. What Hayden references goes much deeper than simply grabbing location data and call records, something most intelligence and law enforcement agencies can already obtain without a warrant.

In the basest terms, the NSA wants to be inside your phone and will do anything to get there, but rather than follow that particular idiom into a dead end filled with rapey metaphors, we’ll move on to the part where the NSA blames you for creating such attractive data.

In three consecutive transparencies, the authors of the presentation draw a comparison with “1984,” George Orwell’s classic novel about a surveillance state, revealing the agency’s current view of smartphones and their users. “Who knew in 1984 that this would be Big Brother …” the authors ask, in reference to a photo of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. And commenting on photos of enthusiastic Apple customers and iPhone users, the NSA writes: “… and the zombies would be paying customers?”

No doubt whoever put together this presentation was pretty pleased with applying the Big Brother epithet to a private corporation. Without a doubt, many tech companies gather a ton of data on their users. Pre-installed apps routinely ask for permission to use location data and nearly every website visited gathers that along with anything else they can pick up. But private corporations aren’t Big Brother because, for one thing, they’re not the government. Apple can’t spy on you and then use that data to imprison you. Only the government can.

Not that the NSA wants any tech company to start gathering less data. It loves the data and it loves being able to shake down these companies for their collections whenever deemed necessary. Referring to customers as “zombies” is the sort of thing you’d expect from neckbearded hipsters and other self-proclaimed individualists who tend take a dim view of any popular activity. It’s rather jarring to hear the lingo deployed in a government intelligence agency presentation.

A private individual referring to iPhone customers as “zombies” is one thing. The NSA doing it is quite another. People who don’t take an active effort to protect their information are being labeled as sub-human by a government agency. If these smartphones users don’t care about the data they’re leaking, then they really don’t have an “expectation of privacy” to be steamrolled. That’s the argument. As Der Spiegel puts it, the agency is arguing that the smartphone-buying public is “complicit in its own surveillance.”

But they aren’t, as one recent decision on acquiring cell phone location data without a warrant pointed out:

People buy cell phones to communicate with others, to use the Internet, and for a growing number of other reasons. But no one buys a cell phone to share detailed information about their whereabouts with the police.

The agency clearly feels that if the data is willingly being produced by cell phone users, it should have access. By reducing smartphone users to “zombies” and painting cell phone manufacturers as “Big Brother,” the NSA is dehumanizing its targets. These aren’t people — they’re just data producing entities, too brainless to be bothered with niceties like piviacy and security.

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Steve Jobs Is 'Big Brother' And Smartphone Users Are 'Zombies,' According To NSA Cell Phone Tapping Presentation”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

As Der Spiegel puts it, the agency is arguing that the smartphone-buying public is “complicit in its own surveillance.”

And I’m sad to say, the agency is right. Let me give you the reason why I say that.

Go to your nearest mobile phone dealer. Or go look online, if you don’t want to get out of your chair.

Try to find a phone that makes phone calls…and only phone calls. Go on, try.

Even if you can, and I’ll be rather surprised if you do, you’ll have to wade past endless smartphones with cameras and IP connectivity and GPS and bluetooth and apps and and and and…all of which are of course ripe for exploitation because they have far too many features to be secure.

This observation hasn’t been lost on the bad guys out there (a term which now clearly includes the NSA): go search for “mobile phone malware” and start reading. That ecosystem is rich and diverse because it can be: smartphones are layers of crappy apps on crappy operating systems on crappy firmware: the whole stack has been miserably engineered, with predictable results. And yet smartphone users can’t get enough of it, can’t wait to get the next one, the next one, the next one, more crap-on-crap-on-crap, hell, they stand in line to buy this overpriced crap.

I’m not condoning what the NSA has done/is doing/will do. But really, anyone who thinks their smartphone is secure is an absolute, first-class, grade-A moron. THEY HAVE NEVER BEEN SECURE, not in their entire existence. The NSA is merely the latest (that we know about) in a lonnnnnng line of people and organizations to leverage that fact to their advantage.

Your smartphone is your leash, citizens. Let’s see if you have the intelligence to ditch it or if you’re so hopelessly addicted that you can’t put it down.

“We’ll make great pets…”

Stubz says:

Re: Re:

“The NSA is merely the latest (that we know about) in a lonnnnnng line of people and organizations to leverage that fact to their advantage.”

No doubt they’re opportunistic weasels, however, I would suggest they pushed mobile “phone” technology from the start. How do you sell tracking-devices/mobile-microphones to the public? You shroud them with the “benefit” of being social from anywhere.

PopeRatzo (profile) says:

Heroes and Villains

I challenge anyone to make the case that Snowden is not a hero.

I didn’t think so at first, but the importance of the stories coming out of the NSA leaks has convinced me that he’s done more good for the United States by exposing our government’s misdeeds than anyone in elected office.

I consider myself to be on the Far Left, not a libertarian in any way except socially. But the information in these leaks is the best argument for serious oversight and limitation on military/intelligence/corporate/law enforcement power I’ve ever seen.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Heroes and Villains

Are you suggesting that the American PUBLIC wants to blow up their own country?

Usually, the nutjobs that do the blowing up associate with other nutjobs, visit nutjob websites and post nutty statements on the social media. They’re usually easy to identify and can therefore be caught via probable cause and a warrant. All this surveillance is not only unnecessary, it hasn’t prevented any terrorism so stop jizzing yourself over it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Heroes and Villains

You have no idea if it did or did not stop any terrorism. There’s no way you could know that for certain either way.

All you know, is that there haven’t been any terrorist attacks since 9/11.

Which is the only thing that really matters when discussing the effectiveness of anti-terrorist measures.

Please explain to me what illicit purposes the NSA is using their massive data collection for. All that data. What are they using it for besides terrorist surveillance, hmm? And if you think posting the outlier of some flunkie abusing it to spy on some random piece of ass, you’ve failed miserably.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Heroes and Villains

Not really, saying ‘The NSA has been collection a ton of data, there haven’t been any terrorist attacks since 9/11(which would be false, as the boston bombing certainly wasn’t stopped by their data-mining), hence the NSA’s actions have prevented terrorists’ is like saying ‘I picked up a particular rock, I haven’t been attacked by tigers since I got it, hence the rock drives off tigers’.

Every single example that the NSA and those defending them have trotted out to justify their actions and existence to date have been debunked, as either not real threats, or threats that were handled the normal, legal, not-violating-constitutional-rights way.

As has been pointed out numerous times, the argument that ‘If it stops terrorists it’s acceptable’ is completely ridiculous. Cameras in every home would probably stop a lot of terrorists, as well as a ton of crime, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thought that was an acceptable price for the public to pay, and those that did agree with such measures would probably only be agreeable right until the cameras were being installed in their homes, as such people always seem to think that such intrusive surveillance would never be used against such ‘law abiding people’ such as themselves.

As for purposes, that’s beside the point, merely collecting and having such massive data is a problem, if for no other reason than it makes for the world’s most tempting hacking target for any technologically inclined criminal or group, and sooner or later they will break in(or just pay off/threaten the right person to get the data directly).

And of course there’s the ever so insignificant fact that such widespread data gathering is not only in violation of constitutional rights, but downright illegal, and in fact something that multiple courts have ruled against, and the problem only grows.

Of course then you’ve got blackmail, extortion, political/industrial espionage, keeping tabs on those that potentially threaten the status quo or powers that be… the list of potential abuses is legion, and given the NSA, those working for them, and those that they ‘answer to’ are all human, abuses will happen as long as such a massive database exists.

Finally, love the ‘outlier’ line, apparently you missed the article a while back that talked about the thousands of abuses per month that occurred in just one of the local agencies; when the numbers get that large they are hardly ‘outliers’ I’d say.

jimb (profile) says:

Cell phones have location data because, by law, they must “in order to enable 911 services”. That this also becomes a way for secret government agencies and police to establish whereabouts with a timestamp, and track locations of the cell phone (and presumably the phone’s owner…) at all times, and that the current law allows police agencies to accesst this information without a warrant or any proof of probable cause is a grevious breach of our constitutional rights. Except that its not, because the courts are inside the pockets of the security/military/industrial cabal and the elites they protect. We’re all screwed, and there’s precious little to be done about it, because the laws *they* make are -designed- to enforce and increase their power over us. This can’t end well.

Anonymous Coward says:

‘painting cell phone manufacturers as “Big Brother,” the NSA is dehumanizing its targets’ and getting themselves out of the frame at the same time. they are fond of (and pretty good at it as well) getting anyone and everyone to take the blame for what they have been doing. sooner or later, the NSA and other agency heads are gonna get caught.hopefully, that will be sooner and hopefully they will be made to pay just as they make others pay, even when no wrong has been done!!

justok (profile) says:

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Ninja (profile) says:

Open software is the way to prevent such things. And by open I mean from bottom to top, from the code to the implementation. The Android OS would be awesome if the user had full control over permissions and stuff by default. If your device is not rooted you can’t select which permissions a determined app may or may not have. Or better yet, you could decide to grant or deny permission when the app requests said resource. Sure there would still be plenty of people that would allow all but you’d put the power not to be ‘spied’.

The open concept should be specially applied to the infra-structure level too to avoid the whole infiltration thing the NSA has been engaging into for the last decades.

As much as I don’t like Apple it’s not fair to put the blame on them or on Mr Jobs unless there is clear evidence that the company is engaged in helping the Govt surveillance and that it is not the fault of infiltrated agents. We’ve come to the point where trust has been completely lost.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...