In 2010, American and British spies reportedly hacked into a Dutch SIM card manufacturer, stealing encryption keys used to protect mobile communications worldwide. The operation was conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA) and its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The target was Gemalto, the largest producer of SIM cards globally, supplying 2 billion cards annually to over 450 wireless network providers in 85 countries.

The theft of these encryption keys allows intelligence agencies to monitor mobile communications without approval or knowledge of telecom companies and foreign governments. Calls, texts and data can be intercepted and decrypted, enabling eavesdropping on communications of billions of mobile users globally.

The operation was revealed in documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Gemalto was apparently oblivious of the breach, highlighting the stealthy prowess of the spy agencies. The incident underscores the risks of entrusting private data to digital systems, raising significant questions about international norms in the age of digital espionage.

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