The Dangers of Digital Spying with IMSI Catchers

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Alvin Bryan

Alvin Bryan is a freelance writer and online privacy enthusiast enthusiast currently contributing quality tips and troubleshooting on personal VPN services, and online privacy and security news. You can also find him on Google +.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has pointed out that a big threat to phone and Internet privacy is a lack of support. Digital privacy has many advocates, but the international battle against digital spying needs as many people as it can get. The EFF has launched and Counter-Surveillance Success Stories to share information about fighting digital spying. The goal is to educate the public about the dangers of digital spying so that people can make informed decisions. These two projects will also help privacy advocates all around the globe to learn from the experiences of other campaign leaders with helpful tips and relevant information.

Illegal Digital Spying by Police

IMSI Digital SpyingDigital spying is still a hot issue even years after the first scandal over signal routers. The most popular of these are IMSI catchers, digital spying tools that can scoop up everything in range. Several state governments have introduced laws this year that prohibit local police from using IMSI catchers. Activists are still concerned, however, because digital spying persists. Despite the accusations, the Department of Justice has prevented digital spying records from being opened up to investigation. As with other digital spying issues, they claim that anti-terrorism efforts would be hurt by such investigations. The use of IMSI catchers has been a very controversial topic in the courts as well, with judges disagreeing over the interpretation of the Pen Register Statute that has allowed this type of digital spying by law enforcement.

Another concern stems from the use of IMSI catchers by private entities. Digital spying is not only conducted by government offices, as we now well know. The technology has become widely available to almost anyone who can pay. A lot of heat has been focused on one particular packaged solution called StingRay. This IMSI catcher is used commonly for digital spying by law enforcement agencies such as the FBI. It is suspected to be available on the black market, however, for much less than the regular cost of between 60,000 and 200,000 US dollars.

Civilians Engage is Digital Spying, Too

Private Digital SpyingA lot of people use some form of digital spying equipment. Mostly, these are civilians who want to keep track of family members and partners. Sometimes, however, digital spying gear is used by people to carry out domestic violence and abuse. These tools are mostly GPS trackers and similar apps and rarely IMSI catchers, but the concept is the same. They allow people to remotely monitor a mobile phone and access the device’s contacts and call lists, messages and stored files, and sometimes even have keyloggers and allow users to listen in on phone calls.

IMSI catchers have been located all over the country, with high concentrations in cities like Washington DC. But because records of their use by law enforcement are sealed, it cannot be determined whether they are employed by police or someone else. We must remember that foreign governments, private companies and criminal entities have a lot to gain from this digital spying technology. With affordable apps like StealthGenie that can be installed without the device owners’ permission, it can be very dangerous.

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