Police Use Stingrays / Dirtboxes in Planes to Spy on Mobile Phones

Use of surveillance devices known as Dirtboxes – plane-mounted stingrays – on aircraft flying above the Southern California city that is home to Disneyland, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. As per documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, the Anaheim Police Department have owned the Dirtbox since 2009 and a ground-based stingray since 2011, and may have loaned out the equipment to other cities in the nearly seven years it has possessed the equipment. This cell phone spying program, which potentially affects the privacy of everyone who visit Disneyland every year, shows the dangers of allowing law enforcement to secretly acquire surveillance technology.

Stingrays and Dirtboxes are mobile surveillance systems that impersonate a legitimate cell phone tower in order to trick mobile phones and other mobile devices in their vicinity into connecting to them and revealing their unique ID and location. Stingrays emit a signal that is stronger than that of other cell towers in the vicinity in order to force devices to establish a connection with them. Stingrays don’t just pick up the IDs of targeted devices, however. Every phone within range will contact the system, revealing their ID – IMIE, Brand, Make, OS, Number, etc..

As cell carriers upgraded their networks, police took steps to exploit that very network which millions of customers would entrust with their private communications. Without transparency and an enforceable set of rules, we really don’t know whether these devices are used from the sky to investigate real crimes, helping the mafia or something else!

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