Quoted: on U.S. cellphone spying from airplanes

“It’s inexcusable and it’s likely — to the extent judges are authorizing it — (that) they have no idea of the scale of it.”

Christopher Soghoian, chief technologist at the ACLU, on what he calls a “dragnet surveillance program” — the spying from the skies that the U.S. Marshals Service  is doing, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The WSJ report says the Justice Department uses planes equipped with devices that act like cellphone towers to collect information from cellphones of supposed criminal suspects but likely scoops up data of innocent Americans as well. (This reminds us, of course, of the mass spying by the NSA, which also collected call records and online communications of Americans who were not suspected of wrongdoing.)

But back to the spies in the skies. The devices reportedly being used are known as “dirtboxes,” named after the Boeing unit, DRT, that makes them. The dirtboxes collect location and identifying information. And that information isn’t safe even if a phone has encryption, because the fake towers fool the phones into believing they have the strongest signal, and the phones then send their registration information, according to the WSJ. This bypasses the wireless carriers because the government is using its own “towers.”

What does the Justice Department have to say about all this? An official would neither confirm nor deny the program, says the WSJ.

 

Photo of airplane from Thinkstock

 

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