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US cellphone spy program turned prison jammers against us

US cellphone spy program turned prison jammers against us

  • 2014-11-26
 

Flying overhead in a Cessna aircraft, the Justice Department may very well be sending a cellphone dragnet over your city right now. This plane will use an amplified cell signal that'll override the next-most powerful signal in your area, tapping in to your phone's automatic aim to connect to the best signal in range. With this connection, the U.S. Marshals Service will summon registration data for the lot of the phones it's located, aiming to ping a single phone in the process. All other phone data is said to be dropped. But there's more to this equation than simple information gathering.

So what's the big deal, you might be asking? Over the past 12 hours it's become apparent - thanks to a report on the U.S. Marshals Service program from the Wall Street Journal, that a number of planes are put in use across the United States to locate and center in on suspected criminals using their cell phone signals.

This is a legal process, apparently.

A judge's approval is necessary to attempt to locate a criminal - or terrorist suspect - and the plane or planes are deployed.
cessna

People familiar with the program suggest that it's been in place since 2007. That's well before the smartphone craze took full hold - not that it matters how smart your phone is.

Any phone with the aim to grab the strongest cellular connection will succumb to this program's net. If you're a criminal on the run and you use a mobile phone that you used before you became a criminal in the eyes of the law, you'll probably be able to be located fairly easily.

boeing

You'll hear the technology referred to in these planes as "Dirtboxes." This is because they're made by Digital Receiver Technology Inc., aka DRT. Digital Receiver Technology Inc. is a subsidiary of Boeing. You can find a 2010 PDF on the subject filed by Boeing, made for the United States Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Back in 2010, this filing was made in reference to locating cellphones inside of prisons. That's illegally used cellphones used inside prisons by prisoners, mind you.

jammed

As this document states: "DRT has developed a device that emulates a cellular base station to attract cell phones for a registration process even when they are not in use. During this registration process calls are not disrupted. All calls, including 911 calls, are released, including those made from the contraband cell phones. The DRT device identifies cell phones as 'not of interest' or 'of interest'."

The document from Boeing goes on to note that there are two modes of operation with the DRT. "In one mode of operation, the DRT device then returns the cell phone to its network, permitting it to send and receive calls."

That's what'll happen in most cases.

"In another mode of operation designed for use by federal law enforcement entities," says the document, "the cell phone can be locked onto the DRT device, preventing its contraband use."

Boeing suggests that "only federal entities can currently use devices that jam or block wireless communications." Remember that this was back in 2007.

The document goes on with a new chapter entitled:

"STATE AND LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT SHOULD BE PERMITTED TO USE JAMMING TECHNOLOGIES OUTSIDE THE PRISON CONTEXT"

Boing gives the example of a Special Weapons and Tactics team being able to use DRT to disable the phones of outlaws. They could potentially use the technology to stop suspects when they'd otherwise "signal associates during raids on buildings or call for a getaway vehicle to evade apprehension."

Does that sound like a good idea to you? Already in 2007 Federal Agents were allowed to jam cell phones in this manner - it was legal. This Boeing document was made to ask that state and local law enforcement entities be exempted from the same wireless jamming technology laws that federal agencies were.

This is the Communications Act of 1934 that blocks the use of cell jamming technology, and it's still in place today. It still blocks local and state law enforcement agencies from jamming cell phone signals.

Whether or not the reported DRT boxes being used in planes flying across the United States are using said jamming technology is not yet known.(from slashgear.com)

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