NSA, GCHQ Have Been Intercepting In-Flight Mobile Calls For Years

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: American and British spies have since 2005 been working on intercepting phone calls and data transfers made from aircraft, France’s Le Monde newspaper reported on Wednesday, citing documents from former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden. According to the report, also carried by the investigative website The Intercept, Air France was targeted early on in the projects undertaken by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and its British counterpart, GCHQ, after the airline conducted a test of phone communication based on the second-generation GSM standard in 2007. That test was done before the ability to use phones aboard aircraft became widespread. “What do the President of Pakistan, a cigar smuggler, an arms dealer, a counterterrorism target, and a combatting proliferation target have in common? They all used their everyday GSM phone during a flight,” the reports cited one NSA document from 2010 as saying. In a separate internal document from a year earlier, the NSA reported that 100,000 people had already used their mobile phones in flight as of February 2009, a doubling in the space of two months. According to Le Monde, the NSA attributed the increase to “more planes 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.” Le Monde and The Intercept also said that, in an internal presentation in 2012, GCHQ had disclosed a program called “Southwinds,” which was used to gather all the cellular activity, voice communication, data, metadata and content of calls made on board commercial aircraft.

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