Feds Engage in Massive Spying on Americans' Cellphones from the Air


Uncle Sam the Spy

The Wall Street Journal has today a terrific article, "Americans' Cellphones Targeted in Secret U.S. Spy Program," that details how U.S. Marshals Service aircraft deploy "dirtbox" technology to spy on millions of Americans' cellphones from above. The dirtbox technology (so named as an acronym for the company that makes the devices, Digital Receiver Technology) functions in much the same way as "stringray" spy technologies which obtain information about the location of a person's cellphone by pretending to be a legitimate cellphone tower. While stingray devices can scoop up information about hundreds of innocent cellphone users, dirtbox devices can pick up information from thousands and tens of thousands of innocent Americans. 

From the Journal:

The program is the latest example of the extent to which the U.S. is training its surveillance lens inside the U.S. It is similar in approach to the National Security Agency's program to collect millions of Americans phone records, in that it scoops up large volumes of data in order to find a single person or a handful of people. The U.S. government justified the phone-records collection by arguing it is a minimally invasive way of searching for terrorists. …

By taking the program airborne, the government can sift through a greater volume of information and with greater precision, these people said. If a suspect's cellphone is identified, the technology can pinpoint its location within about 10 feet, down to a specific room in a building. Newer versions of the technology can be programmed to do more than suck in data: They can also jam signals and retrieve data from a target phone such as texts or photos. It isn't clear if this domestic program has ever used those features. …

Christopher Soghoian, chief technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, called it "a dragnet surveillance program. It's inexcusable and it's likely—to the extent judges are authorizing it—[that] they have no idea of the scale of it."

With bitter amusement and dismay I noted the juxtaposition of these two headlines in today's Washington Post:

Marshals Monitor

"Marshals said to monitor phones from the air" and "Report: Most think they live in a privacy dystopia."

The second article is reporting the results of a Pew Research Poll which the Post notes:

Eight in 10 Americans believe the public should be concerned about the government's monitoring of phone calls and Internet communications according to a survey conducted by the organization in January. 

No kidding. It's beginning to seem like the list of Federal agencies that don't spy on Americans is shorter than the list of those that do.

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  1. Wow. This is totally unexpected and shocking. 😐

    1. Whoever would’ve thought that the American government would do something like this? I, for one, am stunned.

    2. Its all our fault Almanian. People told me if I didn’t vote for Obama the feds would be listening to our cell phones. And sure enough they were right.

      1. We can trust Obama, though. He’s a good guy.


    3. My roomate’s aunt makes $71 /hour on the laptop . She has been out of a job for six months but last month her income was $12021 just working on the laptop for a few hours.
      You can try this out. ?????

  2. If you’re not doing anything wrong…

    1. …we’ll still nail your ass for something!

  3. We libertarians shouldn’t expect any support from the new Republican majority in Congress on this.

    The Republicans probably get more mileage out of scaring people into submission on their Fourth Amendment rights than the Democrats do.

    Hell, the relevant committee members of both parties in both chambers probably knew about this from the get go.

    1. I can’t speak for the GOP Congress. You may be right about them being of no help on this. But I think you are wrong about them getting any mileage out of this shit.

      The public is overwhelmingly against this. It is the politicians and law enforcement who love this shit. What is going on here is the LEOs want it because they hate the 4th Amendment. The politicians want it because they don’t care about the 4th Amendment are are terrified they will get blamed if something happens on their watch. Meanwhile the public hates it but neither side is paying attention to them.

      I think the GOP could get a lot of mileage out of this. A good portion of their base would like it and the ones who don’t won’t be voting Democrat anyway. Meanwhile, the GOP taking up this issue and making Obama and the Democrats own it, would be demoralizing as hell to a big chunk of the Democratic base.

      It is certainly never a bad bet to think the GOP will be too stupid to figure that out. But, you are wrong to think objecting to this isn’t a political winner. It is.

      1. The national security “conservatives” outnumber the libertarian-leaning conservatives of the republican party. I have my doubts that the GOP is up to the task of shutting down government abuses of basically any variety.

        1. But “national Security” conservative covers a lot of things and not all of them are okay with this. Even fewer of them will actually vote on an issue like this.

          Meanwhile there are millions of independents and libertarian leaning conservatives who are very angry about this and more importantly will vote or stay home on this issue. There is no way standing up to this wouldn’t be a net political plus for the GOP.

          1. “There is no way standing up to this wouldn’t be a net political plus for the GOP.”

            I see your points John and I hope you are right. However, even if any of them have the will to challenge these types of programs, they probably have the foresight to anticipate claims asserting how many terrorist threats have already been thwarted by such programs.

            Their more hawkish congresspersons would no doubt use these claims against them, especially when it comes time for re-election or if they are running for President.

            1. The problem is that even if I am right, it only matters if the GOP is smart enough to realize this and not so craven in their love of government power they won’t do something even if they do see the political upside.

              Those are pretty big ifs.

              1. “Those are pretty big ifs”

                you know, it’s either dyslexia or vino, but when I first scanned that phrase, I read “when pigs fly”.

          2. I’d use the term neocon, but that’s become a rather loaded term these days and implies other tenets of belief that aren’t necessarily true of all the national security conservatives.

            “National security conservatives” are ostensibly conservatives, that hold national security to be of the highest value within societal interaction. Meaning that it supersedes other values, like liberty and justice. If a conservative doesn’t have a record of security trumping all their principles of conservatism, then it wouldn’t be fair to call that person a “national security conservative”, in my view.

  4. It isn’t clear if this domestic program has ever used those features.

    Perhaps you’re not asking the right people.

  5. “It isn’t clear if this domestic program has ever used those features.”

    This isn’t clear to naive morons but it is to the rest of us.

  6. Yet some guy with Ebola still flies into Dallas and two dipshits with pressure cookers blow up joggers.

    I want a refund.

    1. That’s just because they didn’t have ENOUGH power & spying going on to stop it! /derp

  7. Good thing there is a 4th Amendment that forces the government to limit itself. While we’re at it, let’s pass a law that forbids the government from violating laws. Problem solved.

    1. Reminds me of this for some reason:…..mote,1666/

  8. Net Neutrality will save us!

  9. While I can’t support his methods, Ted Kaczynski was on to something. One could only wish he could have steered his intellect better and had an impact like Snowden. Whether you agree fully, partially, or not at all with Snowden, he is compelling and logical. Teddy U, not so much. And in the end, they were pretty much concerned over the same thing – the disappearance of individual freedom and the abuses of technology that are used to do it. Teddy was a bit too fundementalist, of course, but seeing where we are at today, technology has us under a microscope like never before, and one can’t suppose it will get any better.

    1. You sound like Adam Curry. (That is, in this case especially, a huge compliment.)

  10. Seems like this spying would run afoul of Scalia’s decision in Kyllo v. United States (2001). (Heat sensors are a search requiring a warrant, even though heat is emitted out of the house, partially because, really, nobody expects heat sensors.)

  11. My classmate’s mother-in-law makes $73 every hour on the computer . She has been without work for five months but last month her check was $14391 just working on the computer for a few hours. why not try this out.
    vi?????????sit hom?????????epage

    1. she made 60 an hour on my dick last night

      1. So that’s how she really makes all her money… I knew this “work from home” thing was too good to be true.

  12. One more reason to not even have d GD cell phone / smart phone / whatever phone.

    And shut off the GPS too. Learn how to navigate with paper maps or by dead reckoning.

    1. More realistically, everyone should be using a faraday pouch as a carrying case, when you’re not actively using your phone.

      And encryption is king. The next few iterations of the Blackphone will be worth looking into, as well.

  13. I am making a good salary from home$5500-$7000/week , whic his amazing, under a year ago I was jobless in a horrible economy. I thank God every day I was blessed with these instructions and now it’s my duty to pay it forward and share it with Everyone,

    Here is I started == . == ?w?w?w.M?o?n?e?y?k?i?n.c?o?m?

  14. My roomate’s aunt makes $71 /hour on the laptop . She has been out of a job for six months but last month her income was $12021 just working on the laptop for a few hours.
    You can try this out. ?????

  15. Simple fact is this. The NSA or government has no right to monitor phone calls regardless of reason any more than a police officer has the right to randomly search houses. And our federal court system is now corrupt so it is not up to us to wait politely for our rights to be given back. This is no different than the illegal search and seizure the British used to engage in. Illegal as in against the natural rights of man.

    There is something called probable cause. If the government thinks someone is a terrorist or linked to then get a warrant explaining why. You can’t just randomly search or monitor at the government’s whim. And by the way thanks a lot Bush for starting this whole invasion with the Patriot Act.

    As I have written, we are becoming accustomed to losing our freedom due to apathy. America has not had a real problem since WW II. Not on a tyrannical type scale. We are too interested in reality TV and Fantasy Football. We have become too fat from the Whopper to run for freedom. Many in America just don’t care. Half of the youth can’t even name the Vice President.
    And when you have a nation like that it will be very easy to implement tyranny. As long as there is vodka and a shack nearby. Because it happened before when there was the shack and vodka. And our genetic makeup isn’t any different than a Russian’s.

    Charles Hurst. Author of THE SECOND FALL. An offbeat story of Armageddon. And creator of THE RUNNINGWOLF EZINE

    1. The simple fact is this: They’re NOT MONITORING YOUR FUCKING PHONE CALLS. RTFA. This technology works by attracting all phones within range, and rejecting all but the one targeted, and they have a fucking warrant for the one they are targeting. Nobody is geolocating your phone, nobody is listening to your phone calls, and nobody can use anything (like your IMSI) that was incidentally collected to do anything. You lead a dull, boring life, and nobody gives a FUCK where you were, or are, and nobody wants to hear you talking to your wife about what to get from the fucking grocery store.

      This is a few dozen US Marshalls hunting for fucking fugitives and missing persons. They have neither the time, resources, desire, or authority to track 330 million people.

      This whole “I’m so important they must be tracking me and listening to my phone calls” thing…talk about “pants-shitting”. It’s vainglorious bullshit.

  16. Hypothetically, at what point would the people of America start violently demonstrating to these out-of-control agencies that we’re not going to put up with this shit?

    Never? Okay, just checking.

    1. “Out-of-control”? What exactly did they do that they are not legally authorized to do?

      1. Anything can be made legal. Saying “they were following the law” is a meaningless statement. Those who followed Stalin’s orders were also following the law.

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