Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden warned that phones can be compromised by security agencies to listen in on the user’s activities even when the device is not programmed to do so.
Snowden spoke about the surveillance state in an interview with Digits, a series on privacy during the age of the internet. The 33-year-old whistleblower rose to prominence when he leaked classified documents that revealed the NSA spying on U.S. citizens.
“The TV is a medium that you watch. The internet is a medium that watches you as you watch it,” Snowden reportedly said in the interview. ”Everywhere you go, even when you’re not actively using your phone, it’s still listening.”
This isn’t the first time Snowden had spoken about smartphones being compromised. In an interview last year with the BBC, he revealed how the U.K.’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) had developed and is using technology that allowed them to hack smartphones.
“They want to own your phone instead of you,” he said. Once the GCHQ had access to a user’s device, it could track “who you call, what you’ve texted, the things you’ve browsed, the list of your contacts, the places you’ve been, the wireless networks that your phone is associated with. And they can do much more. They can photograph you,” Snowden explained.
The U.K. government defended GCHQ’s activities saying they are all “carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework.”
“When you think about the fact that your washing machine is a computer and can be used to attack other computers within your own home network—your laptop, your tablet, your phone…or better yet, when your toaster gets connected to the internet, think about who has the capability to turn that on,” Snowden told Digits.
Snowden is wanted in the U.S. where he is accused of violating the Espionage Act and could face up to 30 years in jail for leaking classified information. A campaign calling for President Barack Obama to pardon the 33-year-old has increased its efforts to get Snowden the pardon before Obama leaves office.