Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Here Come the Spy Planes

"And I said: OK. Who is this really? And the voice said:
This is the hand, the hand that takes. This is the
hand, the hand that takes.
This is the hand, the hand that takes.
Here come the planes.
They're American planes. Made in America.
Smoking or non-smoking?
And the voice said: Neither snow nor rain nor gloom
of night shall stay these couriers from the swift
completion of their appointed rounds."
--Laurie Anderson, "O Superman," 1981

Here are a few brief excerpts from Kate Knibbs' 11-13-14 article entitled "WSJ: A Secret U.S. Spy Program Is Using Planes to Target Cell Phones":

"A secret U.S. spy program used fake cell phone towers attached to airplanes to scan citizens' cell phones and collect their data, the Wall Street Journal reports […].

"The scheme, carried out by the Technical Operations Group of the U.S. Marshals, uses devices known as 'dirtboxes' to mimic powerful cell tower signs. These dirtboxes are strong enough to trick phones to automatically switch over to their signals, even if a real tower is nearby. The small-winged airplanes operate from at least five major airports, and they can fly over most of the U.S. […].

"'There are some serious and troubling legal questions about this program,' EFF Staff Attorney Hanni Fakhoury told me. 'It's important to note this is very different from the government getting this information from a phone company. In the last few months, many state courts and legislatures have required law enforcement get a probable cause search warrant to use these devices. The US Marshals should explain how this program works and what kind of court authorization, if any, they're obtaining to fly planes with 'dirtboxes.'

"That another instance of a large-scale, secret surveillance program from the U.S. government has been exposed will undoubtedly continue to corrode the public's faith in the government's commitment to protecting privacy.

"The fake phone tower signals used work even on phones with encryption, like the iPhone 6, so there's virtually no way phone makers could've prevented this from happening.

"The Justice Department has neither confirmed or denied the WSJ report. I reached out to the Justice Department and it declined to comment."

To read Knibbs' entire article, click HERE.

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