Originally published March 25 2015
Can you hear me now? Government surveillance causes cell phone service to suffer
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) The federal government's spy apparatus continues to grow in leaps and bounds, and without much concern about statutory law or the Constitution.
According to recent reports, the government has, for years, utilized a technology known as "stingray," which is capable of disrupting cell service and cellphone operation, even those not being targeted by law enforcement.
The technology was discovered following a court filing by the American Civil Liberties Union, in which the Justice Department insisted that it had been secretive about the technology out of concern that lawbreakers could learn about it and work out a method to avoid it.
As reported by Wired, the court filing noted that "stingrays can disrupt cellular service for any phone in their vicinity - not just targeted phones - as well as any other mobile devices that use the same cellular network for connectivity as the targeted phone."
'Has the potential to disrupt service' For some time now, civil liberties organizations have believed that stingrays are far too invasive because they are capable of absorbing data from nearly every cell phone in their vicinity, not just the targeted phones. In addition, such groups have said the stingrays can interfere with the signals and function of phones within range.
Wired reported that Justice Department and local law enforcement agencies have so far refused to confirm or deny a growing number of questions about the technology.
However, in a recently uncovered document, which is a warrant application filed in U.S. district court in New Jersey requesting approval by the government to use a stingray - FBI Special Agent Michael A. Scimeca discussed the technology's disruptive abilities.
"Because of the way, the Mobile Equipment sometimes operates," Scimeca wrote in his application to the judge, "its use has the potential to intermittently disrupt cellular service to a small fraction of Sprint's wireless customers within its immediate vicinity. Any potential service disruption will be brief and minimized by reasonably limiting the scope and duration of the use of the Mobile Equipment."
The previously sealed document came to light after a defense attorney for a defendant in a case filed a motion in 2014 to dismiss any evidence collected by a stingray. The ACLU said it was the first time the civil rights group has seen the FBI acknowledge the use and disruptive capability of stingrays. But it raises even new questions, such as whether the Federal Communications Commission knew of its disruptive capabilities when it approved its use.
Aside from the obvious Fourth Amendment privacy issues, there is also a question about whether or not the government might be liable to compensate innocent victims of stingray interference, such as when the technology disrupts phone calls and perhaps causes a consumer to lose money.
'That's a serious problem' "We think the fact that stingrays block or drop calls of cell phone users in the vicinity should be of concern to cell service providers, the FCC, and ordinary people," Nate Wessler, staff attorney with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, told Wired. "If an emergency or important/urgent call (to a doctor, a loved one, etc.) is blocked or dropped by this technology, that's a serious problem."
Stingrays were developed primarily with surveillance of cell phones in mind. The devices are mobile and are about the size of a small briefcase. They impersonate legitimate cell phone towers in order to trick mobile phones in the area and other mobile devises into connecting to them and thus revealing their location and unique identification.
As further reported by Wired:
Stingrays emit a signal that is stronger than the signal of other cell towers in the vicinity in order to force mobile phones and other devices to establish a connection with them and reveal their unique ID. Stingrays can then determine the direction from which the phone connected with them, data that can then be used to track the movement of the phone as it continuously connects to the fake tower.
So, if you've ever been out and about and suddenly, your cell phone service gets pretty bad, you might be caught in a government spy operation.
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