The latest allegation of the US government violating the rights of innocent citizens is aimed at the Justice Department. According to a Wall Street Journal exclusive report, it is using a device that mimics a cell phone tower to collect data of US citizens.
According to WSJ sources, the US Marshals Service program uses Cessna planes flying from at least five airports to cover most of the US. The planes carry a device that mimics cellphone towers and is used to trick cellphones into reporting their registration information.
The approach is similar to a “man in the middle’’ attack used by hackers. This type of attack tricks the device into thinking it’s giving information to a legitimate part of the network.
A recent survey showed that only five percent of adults had never heard of the government surveillance programs, and 43 percent have heard a lot about the programs. Most respondents, 44 percent, had heard at least a little bit about the government surveillance.
While the government has been adamant that data collection is used to protect the US from terrorist attacks and other threats, a report by the Washington Post in July showed that among the legitimate data collection there was also collection of data belonging to ordinary US and non-US citizens that included “startlingly intimate” data.
Regarding the WSJ report, “A Justice Department official would neither confirm nor deny the existence of such a program. The official said discussion of such matters would allow criminal suspects or foreign powers to determine US surveillance capabilities,” according to the Journal. “Justice Department agencies comply with federal law, including by seeking court approval.”
It’s not unusual for the government to be secretive about it’s data collection programs. In March, the NSA denied that it infected millions of computers with malware.
The program is aimed at collecting information about people under government investigation but gets data from all cellphones in range. The device is supposed to be programmed to “let go” of cell numbers that aren’t the target of an investigation. The process allows law enforcement to circumvent using a service provider to provide this information.
Having encryption on a phone does not protect it from this attack.
Similar technology has been used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) but not in the air. According to the source the airborne technology may to similar to what is already in use on the ground.
“If a suspect’s cellphone is identified, the technology can pinpoint its location within about 10 feet, down to a specific room in a building. Newer versions of the technology can be programmed to do more than suck in data: They can also jam signals and retrieve data from a target phone such as texts or photos,” the WSJ article said. “It isn’t clear if this domestic program has ever used those features.”