NSA pranksters plant 'listening' devices in New York and take snooping abroad | World news | The Guardian
Next time you gossip or brag about cheating on your partner, check under the table. Group’s stunt highlights extent of the real NSA as the debate continues

Next time you’re at a bar in the East Village, say, congratulating yourself on having tricked your roommate, bitching about your friend’s accent or sharing your partner’s sex secrets, check under the table for listening devices. Wags claiming to work for the NSA as one of “many third-party contractors, albeit pro-bono and unofficial” are collecting your conversations.

A group calling themselves We Are Always Listening says it has placed recording devices across New York and – just like their real NSA counterparts – they have plans to start snooping on people in Germany too.

The stunt aims to highlight the extent of the NSA’s domestic surveillance program as the debate over whether or not to renew the Patriot Act rages on. In a conversation with the Guardian the “agents” said they have been careful not to release “anybody’s first and last names”, although there were two names in one of the tracks on the site Friday afternoon.

The conversations are, mainly, pretty mundane: one man at East Village restaurant Cafe Orlin, talks about publishing photographs. A woman at Crunch is talking to her personal trainer about how much she enjoys watching House of Cards. A guy in a cafe is telling a story about getting evicted from an apartment with “a bathtub the size of a racquetball court”.

Others are more embarrassing. The students who’d bamboozled their roommate into leaving in order to engineer “the greatest suite of all time” seemed particularly pleased with themselves; one called it “one of … the most beautiful social engineering experiments of my life” and compared the level of deception to Inception, Christopher Nolan’s 2010 sci-fi thriller, which layered reality upon reality upon reality.

In another recording Asian men belittle other Asians for sounding too Asian. In another a man recounts a sex encounter in which his partner wanted him to act out fight scenes “like Batman Returns. Bam! Boom! Kazam. Ah you got me!”

According to the website, recording devices are still in place at Building on Bond in Brooklyn and Cafe Orlin and Cafe Mogador in Manhattan. Of course the recordings – unlike the information collected by the NSA – may be fictitious. Talk about Inception! But if they are real, they may land the fake spies with real problems.

One of the people behind We Are Always Listening spoke on the condition of anonymity. Asked about the legality of hiding recording devices in bars and publishing the findings on the internet, the source said: “If it turns out that it’s illegal, we’ll put a full stop to it. We’ll continue to keep the country safe from terror until then.” The spokesperson added the organization had legal representation.

“We hope that we’re lauded and applauded for helping to keep the country safe,” the source said. “Even the most mundane conversations, as the NSA will tell you, are of vital importance.”

The recording devices are all cheap tape recorders of the kind you can buy for a few dollars at Best Buy. “We’re on a much smaller budget than the NSA is,” admitted the source. “We hope eventually that the NSA will adopt the We Are Always Listening project and make it a fully funded and functional arm of the NSA.”

Expect more from We Are Always Listening, at least if it’s not broken up by the NYPD: “We don’t have as many agents as the NSA yet,” the spokesperson said. “But we have recently put agents on the ground in Germany.”

The real NSA did not return calls for comment.