Since 2007 the Justice Department has been scooping up the American peoples cell phone data via devices called “dirtboxes” that are deployed on aircraft to mimic cellphone towers.
Its called the U.S. Marshal Service Program, which has a stated goal of ‘hunting down criminal suspects and terrorist’s’. According to people familiar with the program, the DOJ is flying Cessna aircraft out of at least five metropolitan-area airports, with flying ranges that cover virtually the entire U.S. population, the WSJ reports.
From the WSJ:
Planes are equipped with devices—some known as “dirtboxes” to law-enforcement officials because of the initials of the Boeing Co. unit that produces them—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.
People with knowledge of the program wouldn’t discuss the frequency or duration of such flights, but said they take place on a regular basis.
Cellphones automatically search for the strongest tower signal to connect to when in service. The dirtboxes are able to identify themselves as the strongest signal, even if they are not, to force mobile phones to syphon off data.
The technology is able to pin point a mobile device within ten feet, making it possible to know where a “suspect” is located in a house or building.
The dirtboxes can also jam call signals and intercept text messages and photos, reports the WSJ.
According to those familiar with the program similar devices are used overseas in combatting terrorism in war zones.
The Justice Department refused to confirm or deny the existence of the Marshal Service Program but said that leaking any information of such actions could aid foreign powers and undermine U.S. national security, a line which has been used by agencies like the NSA when caught red handed spying on the general public.
The DOJ did state to the WSJ that the department does seek court approval when conducting such activity.
Christopher Soghoian, chief technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, called the program a “dragnet” and said that it likely stretches far beyond the understanding of any judge that might approve of such a spying operations.
Since September reports of fake cellphone towers being found around the United States have caught the attention of many Americans.
In the middle of September over a dozen of fake cellphone towers were reportedly found near the White House and Senate.
These data scooping devices are commonly called “stingrays” and are used by the agencies like the NSA and Police Departments.
Any American using the service of the large telecom. companies have likely been violated by this program considering its ability to cover such a large portion of the country.
AT&T and Sprint have both declined to comment on the revelations.
As with all of the federal spying, the general publics privacy is being surrendered in the name of fighting crime.