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U.S. and U.K. spy agencies have been intercepting in-flight phone calls for years

Peter Sayer | Dec. 12, 2016
They know what you did last summer -- and which flight took you there

But another document titled "In-flight GSM" shows that the NSA had unknowingly been intercepting in-flight mobile communications as early as 2006, thanks to its policy of storing everything and figuring out whether it needed to later. (The document is dated January 2007, but that date is apparently incorrect as the document contains commercial information from March 2009 and NSA database search results dated January 2009.)

The author of the document described how he had intercepted a message to a mobile phone mid-flight saying "Welcome onboard Emirates. Phone & SMS services are now available," and decided to search the NSA's intercept archives for earlier evidence of in-flight activity. He identified a mobile phone registering to one of Aeromobile's in-flight base stations as early as Oct. 2, 2006, and one to an OnAir base station as early as Nov. 23, 2006. It was another six months before an NSA target registered for in-flight mobile use, with OnAir on May 29, 2007.

The NSA could even track targets on certain cruise lines that also used OnAir to provide on-board cellular coverage, according to the 2010 document, and was looking at other possibilities too. "What's next, trains?!? We'll have to keep watching," its author concluded.


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