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CONFIRMED: Stingray devices used illegally by IRS and other federal agencies can record phone calls after all

Stingray devices

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(NaturalNews) For the past several years, the Obama administration has been fighting against transparency calls in a bid to hide details about the government's use of so-called "stingray" surveillance technology from the general public.

The devices, which we have reported on here and here, are designed to conduct covert surveillance by simulating cell phone towers in order to trick nearby mobile phones into connecting to them to reveal the phone's (and the user's) locations. Talk about monitoring someone.

Now, as reported by Wired magazine in online editions, newly released documents confirm what privacy advocates long believed: the controversial devices are also able to record the phone numbers of a mobile phone's incoming and outgoing calls and intercept the actual content of voice and text communications.

In addition, the documents reveal that there is the possibility of flashing a phone's firmware "so that you can intercept conversations using a suspect's cell phone as a bug."

Wired notes:

The information appears in a 2008 guideline prepared by the Justice Department to advise law enforcement agents on when and how the equipment can be legally used.

The American Civil Liberties Union's Northern California chapter obtained the documents at long last[PDF] following a protracted legal fight involving a two-year public records request. Included in the documents are not only guidelines involving policy but also templates for submitting surveillance requests in order to get permission to deploy the interceptors.

Government has "resorted to extreme measures to prevent disclosure"

The Department of Justice admits in the documents that the use of the Stingrays to locate cell phones "is an issue of some controversy" but it does not elaborate on the nature of that controversy (which, of course, is limitless, warrantless surveillance). In the interim, civil rights organizations such as the ACLU have been warring with the government since 2008 to get information about how the Feds are using the technology and what authority provides them the powers to do so.

As Natural News has reported, local law enforcement agencies in Chicago and elsewhere have used Stingrays on a number of occasions. From our April 22 report:

Federal, state and local governments are increasingly doing all that they can to hide their activities from the citizenry paying them to serve.

The latest example comes from the Chicago Police Department -- the same one with a secret "black site," Constitution-free interrogation facility -- where officials are fighting to keep hidden information regarding how, when and where officers employ covert cell phone tracking systems.

As we noted and as Wired reports, these uses often occurred in secret without departments first obtaining court orders as required by the Fourth Amendment. Sometimes, departments (and, most probably, the federal government) deceived courts about the nature of the technology in order to get the authority to use it, the newly released documents show.

"And they've resorted to extreme measures to prevent groups like the ACLU from obtaining documents about the technology," Wired added.

Trove of data can be stolen

A stingray might also be called different names, such as a cell-site simulator, triggerfish, IMSI-catcher, Wolfpack, Gossamer and swamp box, the documents noted. The devices can be employed to intercept the locations of cell phones, computers that are using open wireless networks, and PC wireless data cards, which are also called air cards.

The devices are about the size of a small suitcase and they work by emitting a signal that is stronger than nearby cell towers in order to force phones or mobile devices to connect to them instead of real cell towers.

Once phones connect, they reveal their unique device identification. The Stingrays later release the phones so they can connect to legitimate towers, thereby allowing data and voice calls to go through.

Besides learning a device ID, the Stingrays can also collect a trove of additional electronic data and information.

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