Britain's electronic spying agency, in cooperation with the US National Security Agency, hacked into the networks of a Dutch company to steal codes that allow both governments to seamlessly eavesdrop on mobile phones worldwide, according to the documents given to journalists by Edward Snowden. A story about the documents posted today on the website the Intercept offered no details on how the intelligence agencies employed the eavesdropping capability—providing no evidence, for example, that they misused it to spy on people who weren't valid intelligence targets. But the surreptitious operation against the world's largest manufacturer of mobile phone data chips is bound to stoke anger around the world. The hack involves billions of phones, reports the Guardian, giving "the agencies the power to secretly monitor a large portion of the world’s cellular communications."
It fuels an impression that the NSA and its British counterpart will do whatever they deem necessary to further their surveillance prowess, even if it means stealing information from law-abiding Western companies. The targeted company, Netherlands-based Gemalto, makes "subscriber identity modules," or SIM cards, used in mobile phones and credit cards. One of the company's three global headquarters is in Austin, Texas. Its clients include AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint. The Intercept offered no evidence of any eavesdropping against American customers of those providers, and company officials told the website they had no idea their networks had been penetrated. Still, experts called it a major compromise of mobile phone security. (Read more Edward Snowden stories.)