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How Police Can Illegally Wiretap Your Phone

How do you know if a government of law enforcement agency has hacked your personal device? The truth of the matter is: most of the time you don’t.

One of the most common methods used by police to spy on the public, is by using an expensive piece of technology called a “Stingray,” manufactured by Harris Corporation in Florida. This special high-tech black box pretends to be a mobile phone/cell tower, allow police to divert your phone signal to their black box, rather than the nearly cellular tower. Moments after connecting their device to you phone, police can then gather a huge amount of information.

In addition to Stingray which clocks in at a cool $148,000, they also make advanced surveillance products like KingFish and Crossbow.


It turns out, these devices are incredibly easy to operate out in the field and can give police an incredible advantage, especially turning large-scale street protests. We can only guess just how widely this type of technology is being deployed against the public on a daily basis.

Obviously, there a massive legal and constitutional issues with using this kind of intrusive technology on members of the public, especially when little if any of the public data capture is supported by any specific search warrant pertaining to any specific targeted individual.

The Intercept reports…

Since May, as protesters around the country have marched against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, activists have spotted a recurring presence in the skies: mysterious planes and helicopters hovering overhead, apparently conducting surveillance on protesters. A press release from the Justice Department at the end of May revealed that the Drug Enforcement Agency and U.S. Marshals Service were asked by the Justice Department to provide unspecified support to law enforcement during protests. A few days later, a memo obtained by BuzzFeed News offered a little more insight on the matter; it revealed that shortly after protests began in various cities, the DEA had sought special authority from the Justice Department to covertly spy on Black Lives Matter protesters on behalf of law enforcement.

Although the press release and memo didn’t say what form the support and surveillance would take, it’s likely that the two agencies were being asked to assist police for a particular reason. Both the DEA and the Marshals possess airplanes outfitted with so-called stingrays or dirtboxes: powerful technologies capable of tracking mobile phones or, depending on how they’re configured, collecting data and communications from mobile phones in bulk.

Stingrays have been used on the ground and in the air by law enforcement for years but are highly controversial because they don’t just collect data from targeted phones; they collect data from any phone in the vicinity of a device. That data can be used to identify people — protesters, for example — and track their movements during and after demonstrations, as well as to identify others who associate with them. They also can inject spying software onto specific phones or direct the browser of a phone to a website where malware can be loaded onto it, though it’s not clear if any U.S. law enforcement agencies have used them for this purpose.

Although law enforcement has been using the technologies since the 1990s, the general public learned about them only in the last decade, and much about their capabilities remains unknown because law enforcement agencies and the companies that make the devices have gone to great lengths to keep details secret. Stingrays are routinely used to target suspects in drug and other criminal investigations, but activists also believe the devices were used during protests against the Dakota Access pipeline, and against Black Lives Matter protesters over the last three months. The Justice Department requires federal agents to obtain a probable cause warrant to use the technology in criminal cases, but there is a carve-out for national security. Given that President Donald Trump has referred to protesters as “terrorists,” and that paramilitary-style officers from the Department of Homeland Security have been deployed to the streets of Portland, Oregon, it’s conceivable that surveillance conducted at recent demonstrations has been deemed a national security matter — raising the possibility that the government may have used stingray technology to collect data on protesters without warrants.

To better understand the kind of surveillance that may be directed at protesters, here’s a breakdown of what we know and still don’t know about stingrays, and why their use is so controversial…

Continue this story at The Intercept

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