U.S. and UK intelligence targeted phone calls on airplanes

U.S. and UK intelligence targeted phone calls on airplanesStarting 2005 American and British spies have 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.

The report said Air France was targeted 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.

Air France said in a statement that the report was "erroneous", and noted that it still does not allow voice communication aboard its planes.

However, dozens of other airlines do already allow passengers to use their phones during flights.

"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.

Le Monde 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.

The reports were based on documents from Snowden, who now lives in Moscow under an asylum deal after leaking classified information in 2013 that triggered an international furor over the extent of U.S. spying operations.
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