Latest posts by Alvin Bryan (see all)
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- Australians are Fighting Data Retention Laws - October 22, 2014
We have heard about police mobile phone spy equipment called fake cellphone spying towers. It allows law enforcement agencies to track people and listen to their calls. This gear is at issue because of privacy implications and warrantless searches. But the FBI has been ordering police to remain mum regarding what the equipment is able to do.
IMSI Catcher Cellphone Spying
IMSI catchers are commonly known as fake cell phone towers because they hijack legitimate cell networks signals to reroute calls through surveillance equipment. They deceive mobile phones into passing data through these catchers. IMSI is the unique identifying phone code of each mobile device. By catching these signals, law enforcement can track mobile phone users and listen in to or record their calls.
The FBI makes police sign a non-disclosure agreement before they can obtain IMSI catchers. This is a rule laid down by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). MuckRock has just published a copy of the agreement and some letters from December 2012, heavily redacted. MuckRock is a news site that facilitates to submission of requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents are communications between the agency and a Tacoma, Washington police station. The Tacoma police were trying to purchase surveillance gear manufactured by Florida’s Harris Corp. Harris Corp. regularly supplies US agencies with IMSI catchers like StingRay.
The FBI has given no response to the publication of the documents on its cell site simulators, as the bureau calls them. They say that the equipment and its capabilities are law enforcement sensitive because details on the technology can render it inefficient. In plain language, the government does not want anyone to know about how the fake cell phone towers work because they can then be blocked or bypassed by new technologies. Naturally, people who want to protect the rights that the government no longer honors will look for ways to defeat illicit and invasive spying efforts.
The FBI names criminal elements and foreign spies as those who would seek to avert detection. In reality they simply want to maintain surveillance powers, as the NSA and other agencies do. The FCC has looked into foreign governments and criminal activity using IMSI catchers unlawfully. They have not, however, overseen their use by US agencies. In fact, Harris Corp was not honest with the FCC regarding their StingRay product. They deliberately gave the FCC the wrong impression about the device to obtain approval of its use by federal law enforcement. The illegal use of cell site simulators by legitimate law enforcement has been left unchecked until now.
Washington DC Full of Fake Towers
Integricell CEO Aaron Turner led a company team to downtown Washington in mid September. The team deployed for two days to test a device called the GSMK CryptoPhone. This device was developed by mobile security company Integricell to perceive any strange mobile activity. This, Turner explains, alerts mobile phone users to the possibility of fake cell towers spying on their calls and locations. The team drove around places like FBI headquarters, federal contractor headquarters, the FCC, the White House, the Supreme Court, the Capitol building, and Russian and other foreign embassies. They were probed and experienced communications interception. After just a day and a half, they had found 18 IMSI catchers in the area. The ACLU has collated reports of known IMSI use and reports that at least 18 states have them, operated by 43 different agencies. ESD America CEO Les Goldsmithbelieves there are many more. ESD America is partnered with Integricell on CryptoPhone promotion.