Obama Administration, Feds Exerting Influence to Keep Local Police Secret on Cell Phone Surveillance Technology

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The Associated Press is reporting that the Obama administration and federal government has been quietly advising local police departments not to disclose details about surveillance technology they are using to sweep up basic cellphone data from entire neighborhoods.

U.S. Marshals Service confiscated local records on the use of the surveillance equipment used to monitor wireless phone — functionally removing the documents from review via Florida’s expansive open-records law after the ACLU asked under Florida law to see the documents.

Federal lawyers also told Tucson police they couldn’t hand over a PowerPoint presentation made by local officers about how to operate the Stingray device.

AP reports that law enforcement agencies in Chicago, Michigan, Oakland County, and San Diego declined to tell the AP what devices they purchased, how much they cost and with whom they shared information.

One of surveillance devices used is called a Stingray, which is used by law enforcement to track cellphones used by suspects and gather evidence. The equipment connects with cellphones while identifying some of the cellphone owners’ account information, including unique subscriber number. The data acquired to the police department connects the same way a phone connects with a cell phone provider’s tower. That allows police to obtain cellphone information without having to ask for help from service providers, such as Verizon or AT&T. With the technology police can locate a cell phone without the user even making a call or sending a text message.

Florida-based Harris Corporation, which manufactures the Stingray, has been selling government agencies an entire range of secretive mobile phone surveillance technologies from a catalogue that it conceals from the public on national security grounds.

Ars Technica collected information on the capabilities of the surveillance devices possibly available to law enforcement agencies and published their findings September 25, 2013 …

“Stingray,” which is a crude looking electronic box, can be covertly set up virtually anywhere—in the back of a vehicle, such as a police car. The Stingray can be configured to monitor a targeted radius to collect hundreds of unique phone identifying codes, such as the International Mobile Subscriber Number (IMSI) and the Electronic Serial Number (ESM). The device gives police the ability to hone in on specific phones of interest to monitor the location of the user in real time or use the spy tool to log a record of all phones in a targeted area at a particular time.

The device can also intercept the content of communications using software known as “FishHawk” which allows police to eavesdrop on communications. Software known as “Porpoise” is sold on a USB drive, which can be plugged into a laptop connected to transceivers (radios) and possibly Stingray to monitor streams of text messages.

“Gossamer” is a small portable device that also mimics a cell tower to acquire IMSI and TMSI cell phone codes. The Gossamer functions like the Stingray, but can also perform denia-of-service attacks on phone users to block certain phone subscribers from making or receiving phone calls.

“Triggerfish” is an eavesdropping device that can intercept mobile phone conversations in real time, and pinpoint the location of the cell phone. The device is reported to be capable of acquiring data on 60,000 phones in a single session.

“Kingfish” is a device that can discover connections between phone, including phone numbers dialed. “Kingfish” is one of the smallest devices and can be concealed in a briefcase and operated remotely via bluetooth with a notebook PC.

“Amberjack” is an antenna that is used as an accessory with Singray, Gossamer and Kingfish. The device includes a magnet mount, which can be attached to the roof of a police car.

“Hailstorm” is possibly a more advanced Stingray-Kingfish device that improves communications with actual wireless companies for improved data management over the Internet.

Christopher Soghoian, chief technologist at the ACLU, believes similar covert surveillance technology is being manufactured by other companies in other countries such as China and Russia. He believes the US government’s “state secrecy” on these devices is putting Americans and companies at risk, because of lack of awareness and lack warning about how insecure cell phone communications may have become.

The Harris Corp. snooping devices range in price from about $60,000 to $130,000. Harris Corp. is the same company that manufactures a proprietary and secure police and fire radio system that cannot be monitored by the public or the media. The system is also not open with neighboring communities that are not part of the proprietary system, which critics say could hinder operations and communications in a large scale incident, and also hinders day-to-day operations and awareness because neighboring communities aren’t receiving real time communications from the closed communities. Naperville and Aurora use the Harris Corp. police and fire radio system.

Harris Corp. public safety radios have recently been at least temporarily shut down in Miami-Dade County because of problems with the radio system. A failed attempted to install Harris Corp. radio system in Las Vegas because of too many dead spots resulted in a loss of at least $42 million when the system was scrapped.

See also …
ars technica Meet the machines that steal your phone’s data

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