Tag Archives: Cellphone

Chicago, L.A. Police Using ‘Stingray’ Surveillance Capable of Breaking Encryption

A new report from the Center for Investigative Reporting reveals that police in Chicago and Los Angeles are using advanced cell site simulators, or “Stingray” surveillance technology capable of breaking cellphone encryption. Truth In Media has written extensively about how the devices are being used to track suspected criminals while largely operating without oversight from local, state, or federal authorities. Exactly how the devices operate and what data they collect and/or save has been unknown because of a vast amount of secrecy surrounding the tools.

[RELATED: Newly Released “StingRay” Manual Shows Company Asked FCC for Secrecy]

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation:



[RELATED: Company Behind Stingray Cell Phone Surveillance Tool Lied to the FCC]

Most of the information been released through the efforts of intrepid investigative journalists and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) activists has related specifically to the manufacturer of the Stingray – the Harris Corporation. The Harris Corporation has exercised a great amount of secrecy surrounding these tools. Truth In Media previously reported on documents which revealed the Harris Corp. worked with the Federal Communications Commission to maintain a high level of secrecy. I have also documented the fact that Harris Corp. lied to the FCC in their application for the use of cell site simulators.

The Harris Corporation needs to be investigated and held accountable, but they are just one of the corporations producing cell site simulators. The devices being used by the Los Angeles and Chicago police departments are known as “dirt boxes”. They operate in the same fashion as the Stingray, however, these new documents reveal they are also capable of jamming transmissions, and breaking encryption. The CIR writes:

“The sophisticated surveillance equipment, manufactured by Digital Receiver Technology (DRT) Inc., a Maryland company acquired by The Boeing Co. in 2008, provides a more powerful class of cell-site simulator than the more widely used StingRay devices produced by Harris Corp., which require an upgrade to intercept communications and data transmissions. According to Digital Receiver Technology’s documentation, its devices are capable of breaking encryption on communications from 200 cellphones simultaneously across state-of-the-art 4G LTE frequencies used for rapid data transmission by the latest generation of smartphones.”

A cell site simulator from DRT
A cell site simulator from DRT

Digital Receiver Technology first did business with the Chicago police in 2005 with the purchase of a cell site simulator. The device was paid for with funds collected from asset forfeiture cases. Meanwhile cops in Los Angeles purchased a package from Digital Receiver Technology using $260,000 in homeland security grant funding. Both departments also use the Harris Corp’s Stingray device as well.

Procurement documents obtained by the CIR show that the United States Navy purchased  Digital Receiver Technology equipment to mount on drones at its China Lake research and development facility in Southern California. According to the CIR documents the technology is also used by the U.S. Special Operations Command, Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The major difference between the Stingray and the DRT boxes is the ability of the more advanced DRT devices to break encryption. A 2011 purchase order for this equipment by the Washington Headquarters Services, a branch of the Pentagon, states the devices can retrieve the encryption session keys for a cellphone “in less than a second with success rates of 50 to 75% (in real world conditions).”

Chicago and Los Angeles police officials will not confirm or deny the use of or possession of the devices.

Freddy Martinez, the activist who sued the Chicago Police Department for records related to cell site simulators, says the potential for spying is unlimited. “With DRT, if you put one of these on an airplane and fly them around, you can find all sorts of info about potentially thousands of people. That includes voice content, who they’re calling, what data they’re sending. It’s like a StingRay on steroids.”

Martinez is not exaggerating. In late 2014, the Wall Street Journal revealed the existence of a cell-phone monitoring program being operated by the U.S. Marshals Service using small planes. The program involved the Marshals using Cessna planes mounted with cell-site simulators.

The so-called Dirtboxes are supposed to be used for criminal investigations, but the ACLU says they can collect data from tens of thousands of people on each flight. The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a FOIA request with the Department of Justice and FBI but has yet to receive any additional information. The EFF has now filed suit against the DOJ and FBI.

In early March of 2015, it was also revealed that the CIA has been working with the Marshals on the program. Over the last ten years, the U.S. Marshal’s Technical Operations Group worked with the CIA’s Office of Technical Collection to develop the technology. The agencies have spent more than $1 million developing the technology.

In June it was revealed that agencies within the U.S. government operate fake, front companies to handle surveillance flights. Some of these flights included monitoring protesters in Baltimore.

With multiple agencies of the local, state, and federal governments operating devices capable of monitoring and storing your information, as well as cracking encryption, can it truly be said that the people are free? The freedom to have privacy is one of the greatest freedoms that humans have. If we are not free to our own private affairs, we are not free.

Check out this Guide to Stingray Technology for more information.

Supreme Court May Review U.S. Government’s Cellphone ‘Kill Switch’

On August 11, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a petition with the  U.S. Supreme Court in their latest effort to force the U.S. government to reveal information about a cellphone shutdown policy, also known as a “kill switch”.

EPIC has fought for records related to the program since July 2011, when it was revealed that Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officials in San Franscico shut down cellular networks during a protest of a murdered homeless man. BART denies blocking cell networks. In July 2012, EPIC submitted a FOIA request to the Department of Homeland Security to find out more about the procedures governing such actions.

The DHS initially claimed that they were “unable to locate or identify any responsive records.” However, on November 12, 2013, a District Court ruled that the DHS improperly withheld information, specifically information regarding something known as Standard Operating Procedure 303 or SOP 303. The DHS appealed this decision and was once again allowed to withhold records. Now EPIC is taking the fight to the Supreme Court.

In their petition to the Supreme Court, EPIC argues that, “[a]bsent Supreme Court review, the decision of the court of appeals could transform the FOIA from a disclosure to a withholding statute.”

Little is known about these programs, but EPIC writes that “a 2011 Report from the White House asserted that the National Security Council and the Office of Science and Technology Policy have the legal authority to control private communications systems in the United States during times of war or other national emergencies.

Also, on July 6, 2012, the White House approved an Executive Order seeking to ensure the continuity of government communications during a national crisis. As part of the Executive Order, DHS was granted the authority to seize private facilities, when necessary, effectively shutting down or limiting civilian communications.”

EPIC has asked the court for three specific pieces of information regarding the kill switch program. They want to see the full text of SOP 303; the full text of the pre-determined “series of questions” that determines if a shutdown is necessary; and any executing protocols related to the implementation of SOP 303, distributed to DHS, other federal agencies, or private companies, including protocols related to oversight of shutdown determinations.

SOP 303 is invaluable in helping the public understanding the true nature and depth of this program. Without understanding how basic procedure around the kill switch works the public is operating in the dark, never knowing when the government might decide conditions permit a shutdown of cellular networks. EPIC also argues that Freedom of Information Act requests, specifically Exemption 7(F) which allows for withholding documents if they are expected to endanger the safety of any individual, are being abused.

What will be the outcome? Will the U.S. Supreme Court take the case and finally give the American public a glimpse into yet another program operated by the State? Or will Americans continue to operate in ignorance? Leave your comments below.

TSA Bans Cell Phones, Laptops with Dead Batteries from Overseas Flights

The Transportation Security Administration has announced a new set of airline security policies that could complicate Americans’ international travel plans. According to the TSA’s press release, “As the traveling public knows, all electronic devices are screened by security officers. During the security examination, officers may also ask that owners power up some devices, including cell phones. Powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft. The traveler may also undergo additional screening.”

The Washington Post is reporting that this new screening procedure will be conducted at airports overseas with direct flights to the United States. The rule change is being justified as a response to as-yet unverified rumors that Yemeni or Syrian terrorists equipped with US passports are planning to hijack an airliner. TSA officials believe that this threat could come in the form of a bomb built to look like a non-functioning laptop, tablet, or mobile phone. Officials in the United Kingdom have also announced an increase in airline security measures.

The Transportation Security Administration indicated that it would be focusing on smartphones like Samsung’s Galaxy and Apple’s iPhone. Also, officials announced that travelers’ shoes would be subject to closer-than-usual examinations.

However, this new policy regarding electronics could put Americans traveling internationally in a bind if they fail to maintain a charge on all of their devices. Under the erratic conditions of travel that one might experience on vacation overseas, it can be tough to keep a constant charge on laptops and cell phones, which are expensive, big-ticket items. Any device that can not be powered on during the pre-flight security examination will be banned from the flight, possibly forcing travelers to leave behind their most valuable electronic devices, some of which contain irreplaceable files and data. Also, individuals in possession of non-functioning or uncharged electronic devices will be singled out for further security screening.

Some individuals might find that a laptop or other electronic device fails while on an overseas trip. If the dead device were under warranty and the owner wanted to take it home to the US to claim a replacement, this new TSA policy could have harsh consequences. Also, if an electronic device experienced a malfunction overseas while containing important business documents, the individual possessing it would not be able to carry it onboard a flight to bring it back to the US to be worked on by a data recovery specialist.

The TSA has yet to mention the length of time this policy will be in effect, so Americans planning to travel overseas in the near future should make sure to have all electronic devices fully charged and operational prior to boarding flights and should expect delays, as passengers may be required to boot up all of their laptops and cellphones during the pre-flight security check.