The National Security Agency (NSA) has the ability to crack protective measures on iPhones, BlackBerry and Android devices, giving it access to users' data on all major smartphones, according to a report Sunday in the German news weekly Der Spiegel. The NSA has reportedly been able to access smartphone contacts, call lists, SMS traffic, notes and location information.
The documents don't indicate that the NSA is conducting mass surveillance of phone users but rather that these techniques are used to eavesdrop on specific individuals, the magazine said.
VIDEO: Should NSA's ability to unscramble encryption be public knowledge?
The Der Spiegel report comes days before the Department of Justice is expected to release hundreds of pages of records explaining how the government interpreted section 215 of the Patriot Act to legitimize the NSA surveillance programs revealed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden and others, Slate reported.
With respect to smartphone tapping, Der Spiegel cited internal documents from the government agency and its British counterpart Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in which the agencies describe setting up dedicated teams -- referred to as "working groups" in the Der Spiegel report -- for each type of phone as part of their effort to gather intelligence on potential threats, such as terrorists.
A spokesperson for Google, which runs the smartphone operating system Android, said in an email to Al Jazeera that the company has no knowledge of such working groups and that it does "not provide any government with access to our systems."
"We provide user data to governments only in accordance with the law," the spokesperson said. "The security of our users' data is a top priority."
The documents reported on by Der Spiegel outline how, for a period of time beginning in 2009, the NSA was temporarily unable to access some information on BlackBerry phones after the Canadian manufacturer began using a new method to compress data. The NSA appeared to have figured out the issue after about a year, according to the documents. And when the GCHQ cracked the problem, analysts celebrated their achievement, Der Spiegel reported.
The article doesn't explain how the magazine obtained the documents, which are described as "secret." But one of its authors, Laura Poitras, is an American filmmaker with close contacts to Snowden. She has published several articles about the NSA in Der Spiegel in recent weeks.
The magazine also printed several slides alleged to have come from an NSA presentation referencing the film "1984," based on George Orwell's book set in a totalitarian surveillance state.
The slides -- which show stills from the film, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs holding an iPhone, and iPhone buyers celebrating their purchase -- are captioned: "Who knew in 1984...that this would be big brother...and the zombies would be paying customers?"
Snowden's revelations have sparked a heated debate in Germany about the country's cooperation with the United States in intelligence matters.
MORE: A timeline of Edward Snowden's revelations
On Saturday, thousands of people in Berlin protested the NSA's alleged mass surveillance of Internet users. Many held placards with slogans such as "Stop watching us."
Separately, an incident in which a German police helicopter was used to photograph the roof of the American consulate in Frankfurt has caused a minor diplomatic incident between the two countries.
German magazine Focus reported Sunday that U.S. Ambassador John B. Emerson complained about the flyover, which German media reported was ordered by top officials after reports that the consulate housed a secret espionage site.
A U.S. embassy spokesman downplayed the story, saying "the helicopter incident was, naturally enough, the subject of embassy conversation with the Foreign Ministry, but no demarche or letter of complaint about the incident was sent to the German government."
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press