Here's the new standard for celebrity: you're nobody till the NSA spies on you. Thanks to the leaks engineered by Edward Snowden, we now know an ever-increasing amount about the secretive surveillance agency – just today, the BBC confirmed that the NSA had bugged French diplomats and Angela Merkel summoned the US ambassador over allegations that the NSA has been spying on her phone. With this many accusations flying around, it's easy to lose track of who's been spied on and when – so Dazed has compiled a helpful who's who list of the NSA's fave targets.
To summarise: if you're Brazilian, a Mexican president, French, a civil rights leader, Angela Merkel, American, dating an NSA employee or if you occasionally enjoy using Skype – congrats! The NSA is probably spying on you.
Angela Merkel, German Chancellor
Today, Merkel called Obama over suspicions that the NSA has been tapping her phone. According to an NSA spokesperson, "The President assured the Chancellor that the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of Chancellor Merkel." As many have pointed out, this doesn't rule out the possibility that the NSA have spied on her in the past.
Enrique Pena Nieto, President of Mexico – and ex-President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon
The NSA spied on not one, but two Mexican presidents - Enrique Peña Nieto, the current premier, and his predecessor Flipe Calderon. In fact, the NSA had been siphoning the text messages of Peña Nieto even as he was campaigning for president, at the same time accessing Calderon's email account. A senior Mexican diplomat said that the spying allegations are “an abuse of trust” and added that the US had promised an investigation.
On Monday, Le Monde reported that the NSA has been scooping up French phone calls and email traffic – in a single month between December 2012 and January 2013, it collected over 70 million French calls. It's not the first time the NSA has eavesdropped on France; American spies began listening in during World War II and continued all the way during the Cold War and through the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Martin Luther King Jr.
The NSA existed long before online spyware reared its ugly head. During the Vietnam War, an NSA surveillance programme known as MINARET was listening in on Martin Luther King Jr. and other prominent anti-war celebrities such as Mohammad Ali (who famously refused to be drafted). An NSA lawyer who later reviewed Minaret stated that "the people involved seemed to understand that the operation was disreputable if not outright illegal”.
In July, Brazilian newspaper O Globo revealed that the NSA had established a data collection centre in Brasília, tapped into the telecommunications network and then intercepted the telephone records and emails of millions of Brazilians. In response, the country is creating an super-secure email system for government employees and plans to create an undersea fibre-optic cable that will bypass the US, diminishing the NSA's capacity for surveillance.
Their wives, girlfriends, husbands and boyfriends
NSA employees aren't just content to spy on entire populations, heads of state and civil rights activists – they also don't trust their loved ones. Over the past ten years, there have been 12 cases of "Loveint" – the NSA nickname for snooping into the lives of your love interests. One particularly prolific snooper listened to the collected phone conversations of nine female foreign nationals and one American.
The NSA can, and has, spied on huge numbers of American citizens, often using legal loopholes to do so without a warrant. Past offence include collecting the phone records of Verizon customers and targeting the browing histories, online chats and emails of specific targets using huge databases. But the most pernicious NSA programme yet is PRISM, which has direct access to the servers of Apple, Facebook, Google, YouTube and AOL. Unlike call records, the NSA has access to the content of any messages as well as the metadata. A former NSA mathematician estimated last year that the agency had "assembled on the order of 20 trillion transactions about US citizens".
Not content with spying on civilians, the NSA has also electronically bugged foreign embasses in the US, including French and Indian embassies in Washington DC, along with the delegations of both countries at the United Nations HQ in New York. Sophisticated spyware bugs attacked computers and phones at each location, feeding back intel to the NSA – in fact, one of the internal documents linked by Edward Snowden suggests that intelligence stolen from embassy computers ensured that America knew in advance the positions of other Security Council members, before a UN vote for a resolution imposing new sanctions on Iran.
Skype signed on with PRISM in 2010, before it was bought by Microsoft, and has worked continuously to allow NSA access to video calls. According to an internal newsletter acquired by the Guardian, "collaborative teamwork was the key to the successful addition of another provider to the PRISM system". Gotta catch 'em all, right? Given Microsoft's willingness to comply with the NSA, wome users speculate now speculate that the Microsoft Kinect camera attached to the new XBox One console could be hijacked for surveillance purposes.
Imagine a nightmarish post-Leveson world where a cowed press simply parrots the government line OH HANG ON pic.twitter.com/bEA9VgaWXS— Tom Phillips (@flashboy) October 8, 2013
But surprisingly, not British people
GCHQ already do a pretty good job of that – especially since it's received £100 million worth of funding from the NSA over the past three years and actively shares intel with the NSA already. Unfortunately, the UK government has stood firm behind GCHQ spying on its own citizens – and much to the dismay of the Guardian, most British newspapers are totally cool with that.
Head here for a Dazed primer on how to protect your computer from the prying eyes of the NSA.
Follow Zing Tsjeng on Twitter here @misszing