US and UK Spied Passengers on Planes for 10 Years

by Amna El Tawil

US and British spies have been intercepting data transfers and listening in on mobile phone calls made on passenger planes for ten years, according to leaked classified files. The report also claims that the NSA and UK Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) can identify and intercept phones on a vast majority of commercial flights in “near real time”. They do so through triangulation process using satellites, passenger lists, and ground detectors.

Documents by Edward Snowden also reveal that US and UK’s spies can also scramble someone’s phone so that you have to turn it on again, they use the opportunity to steal the security code. Snowden sent the shocking documents to the Intercept, the US-based website which shared the revelations with the French Le Monde.

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Among the targets of these actions were Israeli diplomats and academics, officials of the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, and many others. This type of field espionage started in 2007 when phone calls were intercepted on board planes belonging to Air France, singled out as a prime target due to “terror” fears, the documents reveal. By December 2008, 50,000 people had already used their mobile phones in flight, with the figure doubling by February 2009.

In 2012, at least 27 airlines allowed passengers to use mobile phones on board, including British Airways, Aeroflot, Etihad, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines. However, Air France was “such a symbol of the surveillance of communications on board airlines that the British spy agency used a drawing of one of their planes to illustrate how the interception worked”.

When asked about the British and American surveillance claims, Air France told Le Monde: “We are visibly not the only ones to have been targeted and we know absolutely nothing about these practices.”


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