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An NSA presentation leaked by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden pointing to the potential of smartphones for government surveillance suggest that Steve Jobs was an unwitting Big Brother figure by popularizing the devices and iPhone owners zombies for buying them.

The reference, made in slides leaked to German news site Spiegel, is to the 1984 ad (below) created for the launch of the original Macintosh.

About 130 million people in the US have [a smartphone]. The mini-computers have become personal communication centers, digital assistants and life coaches, and they often know more about their users than most users suspect.

For an agency like the NSA, the data storage units are a goldmine, combining in a single device almost all the information that would interest an intelligence agency: social contacts, details about the user’s behavior and location, interests (through search terms, for example), photos and sometimes credit card numbers and passwords.

The 2010 presentation, Exploring Current Trends, Targets and Techniques, describes steps the NSA was taking to hack into iOS, Android and Blackberry devices, and refers to the range of data it is possible to extract.

Under the heading “iPhone capability,” the NSA specialists list the kinds of data they can analyze in these cases. The document notes that there are small NSA programs, known as “scripts,” that can perform surveillance on 38 different features of the iPhone 3 and 4 operating systems. They include the mapping feature, voicemail and photos, as well as the Google Earth, Facebook and Yahoo Messenger applications.

The presentation does not suggest that any of the smartphone or online companies were complicit in allowing access to user data, although it has been suggested that denials made by Apple and others in regard to server access via the PRISM program may have been a matter of careful wording.

The slides include two stills from the original Macintosh ad from 1984. Apple famously aired the ad just once, relying on TV stations repeating it in news reports at no cost to Apple.

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7 Responses to “NSA references original Macintosh ad in calling Steve Jobs Big Brother and iPhone owners zombies”

  1. Let me get this straight. The NSA are calling Steve Jobs Big Brother, while at the same time making a presentation about what type of private information they can extort from their citizens using iPhones. Classic. Now we know why the NSA are such scum, because they’re run by complete douchebags. This is something I expect from immature internet trolls, not government officials who get to do whatever they want without answering to anybody.

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    • merennulli says:

      The point isn’t passing blame onto Jobs, but commenting that the work is done for them. These are people who don’t see 1984 as a cautionary tale, but a mere cultural hurdle to get past while achieving their goal. In 1984, Big Brother wasn’t the ruler or head of the Thought Police, it was a figurehead. A salesman selling the ideals of life in Oceania. Jobs isn’t the government, he is the salesman selling the lifestyle that the government uses. And in that, he fits the role perfectly.

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  2. imaxuout says:

    Did you know, if you really upset at the “NSA”, and you feel like they invaded your privacy, you can make a class action lawsuit against them and at the same time you can sue the for invasion of privacy, theft of personal and or intellectual property, you can also file for a “FOIA” (freedom of information act)request and the you can sue them for cyber-crime at ic3.

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  3. Len Williams says:

    Suppressive individuals (and groups) blame others for the illegal/anti-social acts they themselves are committing. The NSA is the real Big Brother by co-opting smartphones as spy devices, something they were never intended to be. This presentation seeks to make Steve Jobs the bad guy for advancing portable computing and telephony. It’s like the criminal blaming the locksmith for making locks that are easily circumvented, or the bank for keeping a large amount of money all in one place.

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    • imaxuout says:

      You know its kinda funny when the nsa/federal government gets by an american the gets arrested but when they the nsa are the ones doing the hacking to the Americans nothing happens to them…..

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  4. The childish Big Brother references aside, it would be naive to think that the security agencies of every major country have not investigated what can be obtained from electronic devices. The most important question will always be what has been obtained, from whom and to what purpose.

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