Nowhere to hide: NSA, GCHQ wiretapped in-flight phone calls, Snowden leaks show

Wednesday, December 7, 2016
By Paul Martin
7 Dec, 2016

According to leaks from Edward Snowden, the NSA and GCHQ have been gathering voice communications and content from mobile phones used on commercial flights, with special emphasis on Air France, which was seen as a source of “terror threats” for the US.

In-flight mobile phone communications began to be targeted almost as soon as the airlines introduced the service earlier in the 2000s. According to Edward Snowden’s leaks, which have been analyzed by the Intercept and the French daily Le Monde, the NSA and its British partner agency, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), were prompt in exploiting the new feature for their surveillance programs.

A top secret NSA document dating back to 2009 noted that around 50,000 people had already used their mobile phones on board aircraft as of December of 2008, a figure that rose to 100,000 just three months later.

In commenting on the expanding in-flight mobile service, the NSA, which is the US’ primary electronic intelligence agency, noted “more planes [are] equipped with in-flight GSM capability, less fear that a plane will crash due to making/receiving a call, not as expensive as people thought.”

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