US Justice Department “Spy from the Sky” Program Revealed

by Istvan Fekete on November 14, 2014

The US Justice Department is collecting data – thousands of cellphone identification numbers – from Americans by using fake communication towers. In addition, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this spy program has been operational since 2007, and that the towers are mounted on Cessna airplanes operating out of at least five metropolitan-area airports.

The fake cell towers are used to trick cellphone users on the ground into sending their identification numbers, which are then collected by the US government for use in criminal cases.

People familiar with the matter, who wished to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, have detailed how the program works to the Wall Street Journal:

Planes are equipped with devices—some known as “dirtboxes” to law-enforcement officials because of the initials of the Boeing Co. unit that produces them—which mimic cell towers of large telecommunications firms and trick cellphones into reporting their unique registration information.

Here is how the employed “dirtboxes” work and why they are able to obtain your phone’s identification information:

“Cellphones are programmed to connect automatically to the strongest cell tower signal. The device being used by the U.S. Marshals Service identifies itself as having the closest, strongest signal, even though it doesn’t, and forces all the phones that can detect its signal to send in their unique registration information. Even having encryption on one’s phone, such as Apple Co. ‘s iPhone 6 now includes, doesn’t prevent this process.”

According to the report, the Spy from the Sky program is targeted at “individuals under investigation” by the government, but it does also collect information from every cellular user who isn’t a suspect. They analyze the collected data, and the information from suspects is kept, while non-suspect data is not.

The catch is that through this program the government doesn’t need carriers in order to obtain the cell tower information, as they can obtain the data themselves.

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Written by: Istvan Fekete. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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