Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Local Law Enforcement Spies On Cell Phones Using NSA Methods

I have to admit, this one is jaw-dropping. Via DSWright of FDL, we have a report from USA Today on local police departments using NSA technologies to divert and track cell phone signals, using, among other things, a device called Stingray:
Armed with new technologies, including mobile devices that tap into cellphone data in real time, dozens of local and state police agencies are capturing information about thousands of cellphone users at a time, whether they are targets of an investigation or not, according to public records obtained by USA TODAY and Gannett newspapers and TV stations.

The records, from more than 125 police agencies in 33 states, reveal:
  • About one in four law-enforcement agencies have used a tactic known as a "tower dump," which gives police data about the identity, activity and location of any phone that connects to the targeted cellphone towers over a set span of time, usually an hour or two. A typical dump covers multiple towers, and wireless providers, and can net information from thousands of phones.

  • At least 25 police departments own a Stingray, a suitcase-size device that costs as much as $400,000 and acts as a fake cell tower. The system, typically installed in a vehicle so it can be moved into any neighborhood, tricks all nearby phones into connecting to it and feeding data to police. In some states, the devices are available to any local police department via state surveillance units. The federal government funds most of the purchases, via anti-terror grants.

  • Thirty-six more police agencies refused to say whether they’ve used either tactic. Most denied public records requests, arguing that criminals or terrorists could use the information to thwart important crime-fighting and surveillance techniques.

Remember, when you leave home, be sure to take your cell phone police tracking device with you!


  1. Note that turning your cellphone "off" may not suffice to actually turn it off. If at all possible, remove the battery unless you want to make or receive a call. One reason I have a Samsung Galaxy S3 rather than an iPhone.

    1. 'Tux, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I am so seldom away from home it hardly matters. Some days, my "track" amounts to a single dot on the map... home. But I am very offended by the notion that someone is capturing content from my phone. Even though I say or text the same things that any ordinary person would, the things I say or text are intended to be between me and the designated recipient (most often Stella), and they're nobody else's damned business. What has become of the presumption of innocence, anyway?

    2. Innocence? That's so... 19th century. We're all guilty of something. There is a building downtown dedicated to holding a copy of the laws of your city, state, and the various Federal laws, rules, and regulations. You walk into this building and it is floor to ceiling books, just shelving row after shelving row of them. Our local law library is around 50,000 square feet, though to be fair much of that is devoted to things like cubicles and copy machines. I can guarantee you that you, and I, both are in violation of something in that vast square footage of paper.

      When every American can be jailed at any time, the notion of "freedom" becomes an abstraction worthy of Orwell.



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