Devlin Barrett of the WSJ reports that the U.S. Justice Department is collecting data on phones through a novel approach: fake cellphone towers on airplanes that fly around the country. Warrants not necessary, of course, because when you clicked through the EULA terms on your new smartphone, you agreed that you gave up all rights to privacy. Well, probably, because who actually reads those things?
The Justice Department is scooping up data from thousands of mobile phones through devices deployed on airplanes that mimic cellphone towers, a high-tech hunt for criminal suspects that is snagging a large number of innocent Americans, according to people familiar with the operations.
The U.S. Marshals Service program, which became fully functional around 2007, operates Cessna aircraft from at least five metropolitan-area airports, with a flying range covering most of the U.S. population, according to people familiar with the program.
Planes are equipped with devices—some known as “dirt boxes” to law-enforcement officials because of the initials of the Boeing Co. unit that produces them1—which mimic cell towers of large telecommunications firms and trick cellphones into reporting their unique registration information.
The technology in the two-foot-square device enables investigators to scoop data from tens of thousands of cellphones in a single flight, collecting their identifying information and general location, these people said.
(click here to continue reading Americans’ Cellphones Targeted in Secret U.S. Spy Program – WSJ – WSJ.)
Sounds great. Warrants are so old fashioned, so 20th Century.
Or as Digby adds:
But never fear, they’ve assured us that they are only using it to catch bad guys.They have no interest in anything you might be doing. Well, unless you’re doing something wrong. If you are an upstanding citizen there’s little reason to worry that the police might be re-routing your phone calls without your knowledge right? Why should you care?
In fact, we really need to re-think that whole 4th Amendment thing altogether. When you think about it, you shouldn’t object to the police ransacking your house and your car without any probable cause either. They could be looking for someone they know is in your neighborhood. If you have nothing to hide in your home why would you object? Sure, they might find something they think is suspicious in your house when they go on their fishing expedition but maybe you shouldn’t have suspicious things in your house if you don’t want the cops finding it, eh?
This is what we call liberty.
(click here to continue reading Hullabaloo- Secrets and more secrets .)
Mariella Moon of Engadget writes
These dirtboxes are also sophisticated enough to mimic a particular provider. If a drug dealer under surveillance uses Verizon, for instance, then the machine pretends to be a Verizon cell tower and connects only to all the carrier’s subscribers in the area. Once a target’s phone is identified (at which point, connections to other people’s phones are dropped), the box can pinpoint his location within 3 meters and down to a specific room. The WSJ’s sources wouldn’t reveal how often planes loaded with these boxes are deployed (they have a flying range that covers the whole country’s population, by the way), but they said the Cessnas fly out regularly to target a handful of criminals per flight.
Obviously, the more densely populated the target area is, the more data the boxes collect, but it’s unclear what steps are in place to safeguard innocent people’s information. It’s also unclear at this point if they’ve ever used the newer dirtboxes’ capabilities, which include jamming phones and extracting messages, photos and other data remotely. If you’re thinking, “Hmmm fake cell towers? Those sound ominously familiar,” it’s because this isn’t the first time authorities used them. In fact, this dirtbox project sounds like a larger, airborne version of a previous one, wherein feds placed fake towers called “stingrays” in moving cars.
(click here to continue reading Flying fake cell towers target fugitives, but can ID your phone too.)
- Boeing subsidiary Digital Recovery Technology Inc. or DRT [↩]