US Spy Program Monitors American Mobiles From the Sky


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Apr 13, 2013
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The US Justice Department has repeatedly used light aircraft to pose as cellphone towers and gather signals from thousands of mobile phones, claiming that this aids in criminal investigations; however, it also conducts unwarranted passive surveillance, disclosing the location and identity of thousands of innocent people.

MOSCOW, November 14 (Sputnik) – The US Department of Justice has been using light airplanes to collect Americans' cell phone data from the sky and identify and locate the users, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The surveillance program is installed in planes which carry so-called "dirtboxes" — equipment designed to mimic signals from cell towers, which are able to "fool" cellphones into connecting to them.

Once the phone thinks it's connected to a tower, it sends its registration information, revealing its location and the identity of the user, even if a legitimate tower is closer than the plane overhead.

The program has been run by a US federal law enforcement agency — the US Marshals Service – since 2007 "on a regular basis" from at least five airports near major cities, according to the Wall Street Journal's sources.

Using this practice, US officials seem to be able to pinpoint a person's location to the room he is currently in.

Using light planes and dirtbox systems also bypasses any need to interact with the carriers.

The report suggests that it also bypasses encryption systems, such as the one Apple uses in its new iPhone 6 models.

The existence of the federal program, which indicates that the passive surveillance of US citizens isn't limited to National Security Agency snooping, has angered privacy activists and civil liberties groups.

The Wall Street Journal cites Christopher Soghoian, chief technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, as saying, "Maybe it's worth violating privacy of hundreds of people to catch a suspect, but is it worth thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of peoples' privacy?"

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