NSA Can Spy on Turned Off Phones—AND USE Camera!

Whether Ed Snowden is a traitor or a patriot is no longer the point. We know that question needs to be asked about Barack Obama. Thanks to Snowden we have found out that the U.S. government have put bugs in our cell phones so they can take pictures in a room—and LISTEN to conversations in a room, even if your phone is turned off. Not a typo. Barack Obama, the sneak, has had the NSA bug your phones, whether they are on or off.

This column is by Kim Komando (her real name) a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who is totally non political. Her radio show is about technology, not politics or public policy. Everyone is concerned about the sneaks that run our government, steal our privacy. Maybe we all need to get a Maxwell Smart “Cone of Silence” if we want private conversations to be private.

nsa fbi obama spying

Can the NSA spy on your phone when it’s turned off?

Kim Komando, 6/14/14

Whether you consider Edward Snowden a traitor or a patriot, before he hit the news most people didn’t give much thought to government spying on everyday citizens. During a recent interview, he said that the NSA has the ability to spy on your smartphone, even if it’s turned off.

Yes, this is exactly what you think it means. The NSA can listen to your conversations and use your camera when you power off your phone. Sounds crazy, but it can happen.

The most likely way is with a type of invisible spying app. Spying apps aren’t anything new; everyone from corporations to hackers to jealous exes use them.

This spying app, though, doesn’t just steal your surfing history, text messages and photos. It also gives the NSA full access to your phone’s microphone and camera.

Your phone basically becomes a bug that tells the NSA everything going on around you. Any conversation you have or any embarrassing thing you do, the NSA will have it recorded.

The worst part is that even if you turned the phone off to be safe, it wouldn’t really be off. The app makes your phone pretend to be off – it turns off the screen, ignores incoming calls and doesn’t respond to button presses – but the spying will still be going on.

Now, if you wanted to have a sensitive conversation without worry, you could remove the phone’s battery. Then the phone would really be off. But, some phones, like the iPhone, don’t have a removable battery.

Here’s when you get to feel like a spy. To truly turn off an iPhone, you have to know how to use the “device firmware upgrade” or DFU, mode. This is what Apple and developers use to install iOS updates, jailbreak a phone or unlock a SIM card.

Don’t worry, you’re not doing any of that. You just want to really turn off your iPhone.

To get into DFU mode, you’ll need an iPhone, USB cord and a computer with iTunes installed.

First, connect the iPhone to your computer using the USB cord and start iTunes. Once iTunes is running, go to the iPhone and hold down the Power button for three seconds, then press the Home button. Hold both buttons and count to 10 seconds.

The phone’s screen will go black, but keep holding the buttons. After the 10 seconds are up, let go of the Power button, but keep the Home button pressed.


Hold the Home button for another 10 to 15 seconds. When you see a pop-up message in iTunes, you know you’re successfully in DFU mode.

Click here to watch a video of these steps in action.

When you’re ready to get out of DFU mode, hold the Home button and Power button until the Apple logo appears. Then let the phone start like it normally would.

Of course, this turning on and off procedure is a complete hassle. So you might think it’s better to keep the NSA or anyone else from putting the spy app on your phone in the first place. Good idea, but it’s going to be tricky.

The NSA or anyone else after you could slip a spy app on your phone disguised as another legitimate app. This is easier to do on Android phones because they can download apps from third-party sites and Google Play’s review policy is very relaxed.

Apple gadgets can only download from the Apple App Store, and the nefarious sneak would have to get the app past Apple’s reviewers. That’s harder, but still isn’t impossible.

Another concern is that the NSA knows undiscovered bugs in operating systems and common programs that let it collect data without anyone knowing. It turns out the NSA was exploiting the Heartbleed bug to spy on people, so it isn’t that farfetched. And it’s just about impossible for you to stop.

In the worst case, the NSA could pull the same trick it allegedly uses with American-made routers heading overseas. The NSA intercepts a router shipment, puts a backdoor in the software, packages the routers back up and sends them on. Then it can spy on any networks the routers connect to.

I doubt the NSA is doing that to phones coming into the U.S. – it would be a logistical nightmare if nothing else – but you never know.

If you’re really worried about the NSA and spying apps, you might want to look into the new Blackphones. These Android-based phones are built from the ground up with security and privacy in mind.

Of course, once on the market, a Blackphone will set you back $630, so it isn’t for the faint of heart or light of wallet. It might worth it, though, if it keeps the NSA out of your life – for now.


About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.


  1. Thanks Steve!

  2. “NSA Can Spy on Turned Off Phones—AND USE Camera!” BUT, the US Congress is dumb enough to believe the IRS’s story that Lerner’s emails for 2 years are LOST~! Ha aha ha! We’ve elected, fools or corrupt representatives – they need to go either way. VOTE THEM OUT!!!

    • It takes very little effort to say “vote them out”, we can all sit on our duffs complaining all day…. Offering solutions might help solve a problem…. So what do you suggest we should do AFTER voting them out, flA?

  3. The moral of the story is: When in your bedroom, place your cell phone in your chest of drawers, covered by numerous clothing objects, with the camera lens FACING THE BOTTOM OF THE DRAWER.

    • … and that is what they were hoping we would say, Don… You see, to some people, their living room is also considered part of their private dwelling. Whay if I dont have a chest of drawers on my living room? Fot the time being, I’ll concede on the issue of third party doctrine, which then allows them to listen in on my calls… But when I hang up my phone and put it on my coffee table camera facing up, I have a right to do/say what I please and that is protected by the constitution. They have no right to snoop on what I say do or have…

      So how do we solve this problem?

      After all, cell phone technology was designed as a surveillance technology… In other words, the only way that cell phone of yours will work, is if the service provider knew exactly whose cell phone it is, knew your approximate location (so that when a call comes in, the system knows which cell tower ro route that call to) and therefore by you simply having your cell phone in your pocket (even with black tape over the camera) they know where you are and can probably guess what you are doing…. so how do we solve the problem?

      There is actually a very basic term that describes this technology: its called “Privacy-Aware Design” and if anyone is interested in learning more, Google (albeit a privacy risk in and of itself) will lead the way. But for more specific highly detailed discussion, look up a book by Dr Steven Wicker “Cellular Convergence and the Death of Privacy”… I’m trying to get the book into a few local libraries as it is a pricey investment for the average man to buy…. but intil then, you might find enough info online to get the debate started and to urge our teck brains to support such efforts.

      Step number one though, will have to be for you to stop trying to accomodate them, because until they can rewrite the constitution, what they are doing is illegal.

      And contrary to what Mr Frank will have you believe, Obama is not the only president to blame for this…. In fact the NSA started its plan of spying on everyone in rhe manner we are hearing about back in 2004… And who was in office back then? Thay’s right… George W Bush!

      Lastly, and in the interest of full disclosure, I am a registered republican and I abstained from voting for President the past two elections.

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