Details Emerging On Stingray Technology, Allowing Feds To Locate People By Pretending To Be Cell Towers

from the without-warrants-of-course dept

More details are emerging on yet another secret program used by federal law enforcement to locate people using their mobile phones... but without obtaining warrants. The WSJ has the scoop on what's generically referred to as Stingray tracking devices (even if the actual products go by a few names, and only some are actually called Stingrays). They appear to be devices that mimic mobile phone towers. The feds use them hoping to have the phones of people they're tracking connect to the device (instead of a real mobile phone tower), and then using signal strength to figure out how far away they are. Do that a few times and you can triangulate someone's location, even if they're not making a call, and without having to ask the telcos for any location info (which, so far, they've been more than happy to turn over anyway).

They apparently used this technology to arrest a guy named Daniel David Rigmaiden, but he's now causing some trouble. That's because he's asking for the details of how he was found, and the court seems equally concerned that this was done outside of the bounds of the Fourth Amendment. It won't surprise you to discover that law enforcement regularly uses such Stingrays without a warrant. Apparently, the court is skeptical of the government's claim that it doesn't need a warrant to use such a device:
In a February hearing, according to a transcript, Judge Campbell asked the prosecutor, "Were there warrants obtained in connection with the use of this device?"

The prosecutor, Frederick A. Battista, said the government obtained a "court order that satisfied [the] language" in the federal law on warrants. The judge then asked how an order or warrant could have been obtained without telling the judge what technology was being used. Mr. Battista said: "It was a standard practice, your honor."

Judge Campbell responded that it "can be litigated whether those orders were appropriate."
Last week, the feds argued that they should not have to explain how they tracked Rigmaiden, because it would reveal too much information "since its public release could harm law enforcement efforts by compromising future use of the equipment." So, we can't tell you if the tracking system we use violates the 4th Amendment, because, you know, you might stop us from using it. Very compelling, but all too typical of law enforcement these days. Hopefully the court rejects the argument.

Later in the article, various law enforcement officials say that they can use the device since it only detects location, but doesn't eavesdrop. That's pretty questionable. The 4th Amendment doesn't make such a distinction. In fact, reading the 4th Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
It would seem that using such a device to locate a person in their house without a warrant seems to clearly violate the text of the Amendment. Hopefully the court will agree.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Pixelation, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 4:49am

    "Hopefully the court will agree."

    Agree and what?

    Why is there no jail time for violation of people's constitutional rights?

     

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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 4:53am

    FCC

    Doesn't that violate some FCC regulations? They're running (probably) unlicensed radio towers with the intent of disrupting normal operations of licensed hardware. To properly track someone that your not just 100 yards away from, you would need more power then is probably legal in the US.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 4:55am

    Big fat deal!

    Anybody can pretend to be a cell tower. Sometimes I pretend to be lighthouse, I stand near the shoreline with a flashlight and spin slowly. ITS A FREE COUNTRY!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 5:02am

    sad sad sad

    "ITS A FREE COUNTRY!"


    Not for at least the last 10 years. Maybe longer than that.

     

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    Spaceboy (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 5:11am

    "and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause"

    I read that to say that if someone is suspected of doing something illegal, and if there is sufficient probable cause, then a warrant can be obtained for whatever purpose.

    In other words, if there is probable cause then they should be able to get a warrant pretty easily. While I think these devices have a use, I wonder what they are doing with the data they collect. Are they used for a given phone number to track it? Or are they just collecting data and sifting? If the latter is true what are they doing with all the other location data? If they are retaining it then I can see why people are up in arms over this.

    Also, when a cell phone connects to it, does that mean that the cell phone is unable to make and receive calls because it's not an actual cell tower?

     

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    Lance (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 5:16am

    Re: Big fat deal!

    One problem with the cell-tower impersonation ploy could be the lack of response by devices, other than the target device. Given that we can't be told how the "Stingray" works (we wouldn't want the bad guys to know), how can I have any confidence that my call to 911 isn't going into some black hole that the Stingray is creating?

    And wouldn't it be ironic if the police kept someone from getting help, because they were too intent on skirting around the process of getting a warrant?

     

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    Butcherer79 (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 5:16am

    Re: Big fat deal!

    It should be a free country, until you take away rights by your use/abuse of said freedom.
    To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure which side of the argument my opinions fall; I haven't really got a problem if, by these actions, they've stopped criminal activity which is taking away others rights. Though if that was the case, I would presume a warrant would be relatively easy to obtain. Is this just laziness on the part of law enforcement? If so, then it would seem to have backfired if the chap who was arrested now has a get out of jail free card due to this laziness.
    Is there ever a valid reason to take such short cuts if there's even the slightest chance that that very same short cut can be used to harm your case against the accused?
    If they make it legal to trace/track people without a warrant, how long do we wait before the use this technology on a massive scale as anopther 'big brother' tool to know where everyone is all of the time?
    That said, is it a problem to know where everyone is all of the time if they're not doing anything illegal?
    So many questions, so little time...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 5:17am

    Re: FCC

    Question: Are these "Stingrays" passive devices - i.e., do they just listen? - or do they also transmit? If they just listen, I don't think they can be considered disruptive.

    If they transmit, tough, it's a lot more troubling. No only are they disrupting normal communications, but, if they act as regular cell towers, there is also the possibility of eavesdropping and man-in-the-middle-attacks on a (supposedly) secure channel.

     

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    Butcherer79 (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 5:19am

    Re: Re: Big fat deal!

    I'd think, to avoid suspicion on the part of whomever's connected, these towers work as boosters for the cell network and merely 'pass on' the data (after viewing it) to the closest real tower

     

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    Beta (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 5:23am

    "The secret police" are hated with good reason.

    '...The feds argued that they should not have to explain how they tracked Rigmaiden, because it would reveal too much information "since its public release could harm law enforcement efforts by compromising future use of the equipment." So, we can't tell you if the tracking system we use violates the 4th Amendment, because, you know, you might stop us from using it. Very compelling...'

    To be fair, I think it's more like "we can't tell you how our system works, because then the public would know how to beat it". A slightly less egregious argument, though still false; the police should not have the power to keep such secrets. My right to know what they're doing trumps their desire to know where I am.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 5:40am

    Here's the deal. If you want to be "safe", you shouldn't walk around with a device that is constantly broadcasting a signal that can be captured and used from outside of your house, your car, whatever. The radio signal is received in a public area, they don't have to go into the house to modify the phone to do this sort of thing.

    Turn off the phone, they cannot track you. Leave the phone on, you may as well put a big blue flashing light on top of your house.

    Remember, the airwaves are the "public" airwaves, not the private airwaves.

     

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    Richard (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 5:40am

    Re: Big fat deal!

    pretend to be lighthouse, I stand near the shoreline with a flashlight and spin slowly. ITS A FREE COUNTRY!

    That is only legal because you don't do it very well - if you were to do an accurate simulation of a specific lighthouse (in the days before GPS and earlier marine nav systems when these things mattered) you would be arrested and face severe penalties for endangering shipping.

     

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    Richard (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 5:45am

    Re: "The secret police" are hated with good reason.

    we can't tell you how our system works, because then the public would know how to beat it

    It's a really bad idea to assume that the public don't know how it works. Any good security person knows that security by obscurity is a bad idea. The really big criminal fish wil find out how it works - and then have an edge over you because you still assume they don't know.

    The response to the above should be - we'll force you to tell the public because that will force you to do a proper job and not be so lazy.

     

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    John Doe, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 5:45am

    Re:

    That is a very good question. The Constitution is the highest law in the land and yet there is no punishment for those that violate it. If there was, I can guarantee stuff like this would be thought about long and hard before doing it. Instead, the government can violate the Constitution at will knowing that nothing can or will be done once they are caught.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 5:52am

    Don't worry...

    I'm sure this will be found constitutional once it reaches Scalia and the prosecutors just say "national security".

     

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    NullOp, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 5:54am

    4th Amendment

    The amendment seems to be unbroken by the use of this technology, if, and only if, no listening is going on. Now if this Stingray can simulate a cell tower it's just another step to listen. Anyone ever heard of the "Man-in-the-Middle" hack? This just seems like another version.

     

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    Matthew, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 5:57am

    Re:

    I have to admit, this was my first impression of this technology as well. Perhaps there is some technical detail that escapes me. By analogy, suppose I were to stand on my balcony and shout conversations with people on the street. If a police officer walked by and, misrepresenting his own identity, convinced me to share my identity with him, would that be a violation of my rights? So a cell phone can shout louder than I can and some special technology is required for the police to have a conversation with it. That doesn't change the fact that my device is broadcasting identifiable information, ostensibly with my approval.

     

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    Call me Al, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 5:58am

    I find the US Constitution to be kind of fascinating. It was written so long in the past that many aspects of modern society hinge on technologies undreamt of at the time of writing.

    This is perhaps a decent case in point. Law enforcement try to claim that this is specifically provided for in the 4th amendment. I would have thought that the spirit of the amendment would certainly apply to this kind of situation, if not the specific wording.

     

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  19.  
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    John Gardner (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 6:08am

    Re: FCC

    When has the legal status of something ever stopped the police or any governmental agency?

     

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  20.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 6:12am

    Re: Re: FCC

    The way they do this is that the cell phone connects to this device instead of the real cell tower.

    "A stingray works by mimicking a cellphone tower, getting a phone to connect to it and measuring signals from the phone."

    It doesn't explain if it's a man-in-the-middle thing and the signal continues on to a real tower, or if the signal stops there. Ether way, it doesn't sound like a legal device.

    Are these devices smart enough to not let others connect to it, or are the cops getting information for everyone in range?

     

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    freak (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 6:12am

    Re: Re: FCC

    "A stingray works by mimicking a cellphone tower, getting a phone to connect to it and measuring signals from the phone. It lets the stingray operator "ping," or send a signal to, a phone and locate it as long as it is powered on, according to documents reviewed by the Journal."

    Yes, it is transmitting. It is not a passive device which needs to be placed a real cell phone tower and can decode the signals, it is a device which mimics a cell phone tower and actively sends out signals.

     

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  22.  
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    freak (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 6:16am

    Re: Re: Re: FCC

    Cell phones usually connect to multiple cell phone towers, so the signal 'stops' there, because it's also getting through in several other ways.

    The devices, though particular types/brands may vary, only allow a connection to a single phone. Allowing for more connections -> more expensive hardware.

     

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  23.  
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    freak (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 6:18am

    Re: Re: Re: Big fat deal!

    Since the cell phone is likely also connected to that cell phone tower, that would make the device easier to detect.

    There would be one-sided echos, for one thing.

     

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  24.  
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    freak (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 6:19am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Big fat deal!

    During the call, that is.

    Depending on the cell phone tower/network, it may also just refuse the data because the timestamp is too far off.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 6:19am

    The Stingray is a variant of hardware offered by Harris, and its use as a generic term came from ubiquity amongst law enforcement. These devices can be passive or active, both within short ranges.

    More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IMSI-catcher

    Law enforcement normally have legislative powers to transmit in a frequency band owned by telco. Actual use of the equipment for surveillance is subject to varying levels of legislation in different countries depending on whether they're IDing a target, locating a target, or eavesdropping.

     

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  26.  
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    freak (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 6:23am

    People in the comments here need to realize that cell phones connect to multiple towers.

    That's how telcos can locate you, (since the towers log everything), which is the information that police would go to a telco with a warrant for.
    Without connecting to multiple towers at once, your exact location would be very difficult to determine.

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 6:25am

    Re:

    You can also get range information, and narrow that down to a sector (if the tower is sectored) so a range within say 120 degrees from the tower. That sometimes helps immensely.

     

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  28.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 6:25am

    Re: Re:

    It's illegal to listen in on someone while they are on a cordless phone even though the signal is going several hundred feet in all directions. Same with cell phones. The reason for that is that it's illegal to intercept any wireless communications that are encrypted. Your wireless phone is, your Bluetooth devices are, your cell phone is; broadcast TV/radio isn't, nor is CB radio.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 6:28am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: FCC

    Modern hardware is good enough to allow multiple simultaneous connections - it's what cell towers do. You can buy cheap off the shelf nano or pico cell tower equipment (like that used in malls) and it fits into a briefcase.

    The signal could stop at the fake tower, but it could also be relayed if they want to try a man in the middle (for voice intercept), but this is much more complicated and the equipment needs to be more sophisticated than for just ID or locating.

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 6:32am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Your cell is only encrypted once you are in a call. Until then, it's in the clear, otherwise it couldn't exchange identity information with the tower. It's this stage that makes it vulnerable.

     

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    out_of_the_blue, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 6:37am

    As they knew the phone "number", should have gotten a warrant.

    Number is hedged in quotes because may be a way to locate SIM cards separately. Important is police had evidence from internet records that ID'd a device, and since doesn't appear that suspect would learn of their efforts from the phone service provider, then a warrant to that company was in order. Think that's a nice razor for you.

    But since the purpose is to object to evidence gathered after locating, I doubt it's critical to the case. It's not /initial/ information. Police didn't just ping phones at random. It's a questionable step but the answer is they've probably found the guy who made off with $4 million, and this isn't that severe a breach of 4th in comparison. -- This is a legalistic objection by someone with big bucks for a lawyer. Police do worse at most traffic stops. But /questions/ such as this are focused on.

     

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    Listen? (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 6:38am

    Re: 4th Amendment

    I'm not certain that you have to "say" anything to be tracked, found, and monitored. Seems to me you've been unreasonably searched and this is a 4th Amendment violation against your person. A bonafide breach of your rights.

    "They" need to get a warrant. If they can't get a warrant then they must stop being lazy and get more proof. If they can't get more proof then they must stop (being fucks). They must stop being facilitators of the American Deconstruction.

     

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  33.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 6:42am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Are you saying that you know this is how the system works, or are you assuming that the cell tower doesn't understand the encryption. To me, it sounds like a stupid idea not to encrypt that signal, would make it too easy to hack the phones.

     

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    Thomas (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 6:44am

    "law enforcement".

    will continue to use the technology anyway. Neither the local cops nor the federal spooks give a rats tushie about whether or not anything they do is legal or not.

    The spooks firmly believes that they are justified in using any means available for catching "terrorists" (anyone muslim or arabic), child pornographers, drug dealers, and people who criticize the government.

     

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  35.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 7:02am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Chronno, they aren't listening to converstaions. They are only looking for the ID tag for a given phone, nothing more. That is a digital broadcast, which has to be able to be seen by the cell tower.

    There is no monitoring of encrypted voice communication.

    Please try to stay focused on what they are doing, not what you are scared someone might do one day.

     

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  36.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 7:03am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Again, I ask the question, do you know it isn't encrypted or are you assuming that the tower doesn't have the encryption built in?

     

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  37.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 7:06am

    Re: As they knew the phone "number", should have gotten a warrant.

    I was wondering the same thing, how did the get the hardware address (or phone number) that would be required to track the phone?

    However, illegal activities during any part of the investigation throws doubt on the entire investigation and can invalidate it. Thus, any reasonable doubt about the hardware used should be investigated itself.

     

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    freak (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 7:11am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: FCC

    Oh, definitely.

    But unless I miss my guess, the police are using the cheapest equipment possible most of the time.

    Do you disagree?

     

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    Badger (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 7:14am

    Binoculars next?

    So, it's *bad* to use a device to 'search' for you by the device that you're carrying?

    Surely it's far worse to 'search' for you using a pair of binoculars to actually look at you?

    Maybe...

     

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    Drak, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 7:27am

    Disturbing

    I don't find the use of this particular technology disturbing but rather the arguments against revealing its full capabilities. I would agree that we're transmitting signals outside of our home by use of our phones and although we should be able to expect a certain level of privacy, even from our government, I personally do not. That being said the continual push to skirt the warrant process by our law enforcement has for a long time now been exceedingly scary. If they weren't trying to hide their activity from oversight they'd not be afraid of oversight.
    Protection from unreasonable search is reserved for citizens, not law enforcement organizations.

     

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  41.  
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    richpoore (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 7:29am

    Unreasonable Search and Seizure

    I don't believe the intent of the 4th ammendment was about what the government can know or listen to, but that they couldn't come barging into your house and take your things. I don't have a problem with people, police or whoever, listening. It is a free country and if some cops have figured out a good way to find suspects, that's good. When they cross the line is when they start telling me what I can and can't do.

     

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    Chargone (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 7:33am

    Re: Re: FCC

    rarely.

    more common is for another part of the apparatus of government to call them on it and things to be halted that way, but even that is not as common as it should be compared to instances of such activity.

     

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  43.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 7:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Chronno, this isn't a "tower". The actual requirement to decode cell phone calls is pretty high, fairly expensive, and reasonable complex to set up and operate correctly. You need to look at the "temporary" cell tower trucks that the various companies use, they are huge and complex pieces. see:

    http://www.cellxion.com/SpecialtyProducts.aspx

    However, it is easy enough to transmit and receive only the "control" channel, which is likely what these devices do. They aren't trying to intercept the calls, they are only looking for the phone being active. They don't need the user to make a phone call to be able to see the phone, as the phone is routinely connecting to and updating which towers it can see.

    Looking at the equipment in the story, it is clear they cannot decode any calls. They are only mimicking a single function of a tower to ping a device and find it's signal level.

     

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    Chargone (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 7:41am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    while it's possible that it does, i can see all sorts of practical reasons why that would Not be encrypted.

    i mean, every single tower and phone has to be able to decrypt it anyway, and the key would have to be standard across devices or something because it's basically a 'hey, i'm over here. ask me for the pass word so i can access your functions!' type message. that key would have to work cross-network, too. so it's highly likely that, due to the only meaningful differences being cost and that one bit of legal protection for their Customers, the cellphone companies wouldn't do it.

    not that i actually know what the case is, of course. so it doesn't really answer your question, but does explain the logic. (i hope. if i did it right.)

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 7:52am

    Re: Re: Big fat deal!

    It's a problem. It's illegal. All law enforcement officials who've used it, should be imprisoned for violating civil rights guaranteed by the constitution, which they've sworn to uphold. By requesting, purchasing and making use of said devices, they are violating the law, and therefor must be punished to the full extent thereof. I'd consider it treason myself, as it attacks the very foundation of our country's freedoms. It attempts to tear the very fabric of our laws.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 7:58am

    Fix the Rule


    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation,and an adversarial hearing and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.




    Emphasis and addition mine.

     

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    DH's Love Child (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 8:05am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    In CDMA and GSM (including UMTS and LTE), encryption is part of the call setup process. When the phone is in standby mode, it sends a beacon with basic identifiying information (mobile number primarily) to help the system locate it when someone calls it. This beacon information is unencrypted, as is the beacon being sent from the tower to the phone and would be very easy to intercept and analyze.

     

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    Butcherer79 (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 8:07am

    Re: Re: Re: Big fat deal!

    except that the full extent of the law, with constitutional violation, is..... zip, see first comment and threaded reply.
    Isn't there an old saying - Set a thief to catch a thief, if what they're doing prevents or solves crime, does it detract from their own criminality?

     

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  49.  
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    Adam, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 8:22am

    Re:


    People in the comments here need to realize that cell phones connect to multiple towers.

    That's how telcos can locate you, (since the towers log everything), which is the information that police would go to a telco with a warrant for.
    Without connecting to multiple towers at once, your exact location would be very difficult to determine.


    Unless your lucky like me and you live in a area with crap signal. I connect to a maximum of 3 towers at once if I'm really lucky, and that still only gives me 1 bar of service on 3G. On edge it only connects to one tower but I have full service :D

     

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  50.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 8:25am

    Re: Re: As they knew the phone "number", should have gotten a warrant.

    First off, you have to understand that this isn't something done without probably cause. Police aren't driving around randomly intercepting cell phone calls to see what is going on.

    This stuff is as a result of having a phone number (possibly from an informant, or from other services), and obtaining a warrant for phone records (and other information relative to the phone, such as it's ID etc, which the cell phone company would turn over based on a warrant, issued with probably cause).

    From there, the rest is simple.

    Chronno, I think you are trying to read way more into this than is going on. Probably cause, no call decrypting, warrants... it's a slam dunk and certainly doesn't appear on the surface to violate any of the relevant amendments. No information (except that transmitted over the public airwaves with the permission of the phone's owner) were used.

    If he turned off his phone, the police would not have been able to track him. He chose to have a cell phone, he chose to leave it on, and he chose to have it broadcast. What more is required here?

     

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  51.  
    icon
    ltlw0lf (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 8:26am

    Re: Re: "The secret police" are hated with good reason.

    The really big criminal fish wil find out how it works - and then have an edge over you because you still assume they don't know.

    Chances are the really big criminal fish had a hand in developing and implementing the system. There is nothing they need to find out because they already know. The same folks that developed Rape-Scan and other technological weapons against freedom and the constitution.

     

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  52.  
    identicon
    DCX2, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 8:41am

    Re: Binoculars next?

    Binoculars require you to be visible in public. Your cell phone will broadcast your location even when you are in the privacy of your own home.

     

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  53.  
    identicon
    DCX2, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 8:51am

    Re: Re: Re: As they knew the phone "number", should have gotten a warrant.

    So if police can do it without a warrant, that means that Joe Sixpack ought to be able to do the same thing, right?

    If this was a slam dunk, then there wouldn't be any reason to hide it. Police aren't shy about admitting they use wiretaps (when they remember to get warrants). Quite the contrary, warrantless location info is actually controversial and not settled case law.

    However, I liken the usage of this technology to acquire a suspect's location to the use of thermal imaging to see inside a home. And in Kyllo vs. U.S., the Supreme Court ruled that such thermal imagery constitutes a search.

     

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  54.  
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    ArkieGuy (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 8:58am

    That's primarily the gas generator....

    The COW's (Cell on Wheels) size is largely due to the gas generator used to power the unit. Smaller units exist (some as small as a USB stick).....

    http://www.technologyreview.com/communications/32282/?mod=related

     

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  55.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 9:07am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: As they knew the phone "number", should have gotten a warrant.

    First, they can't do it without a warrant, because they wouldn't have the relevant phone information.

    The reason to hide it is that it is an incredible advantage. Almost every criminal in the US is carrying cell phone, which repeatedly and often announces over the public airwaves it's presence, location, and so on. Letting the criminals knows that this system is being used would likely lead to the criminals disabling their phones or "trading" phones around to make it look like they are in different places.

    Thermal energy is different from a cell phone in functioning. It requires police to look at an individual house and "see" things that are happening inside of it. A cell phone is transmitting a signal on public airwaves that could be received by anyone in public places, without even knowing which house to look at. They aren't the same at all.

     

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  56.  
    identicon
    DCX2, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 9:19am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: As they knew the phone "number", should have gotten a warrant.

    "Letting criminals know the system is being used"

    This is a bunk argument and you know it. Criminals know they can be wiretapped and the government doesn't hide that ability. Criminals know that the government has gotten location info from telcos without warrants, thanks to multiple stories in the news, some of which were covered right here on Techdirt. Even criminals in movies shut their phones off to avoid detection. The horse has left the barn.

    "Thermal energy is different from a cell phone in functioning."

    I disagree. Both are electromagnetic energy (one is infrared, one is microwave). Both signals originate from places known to have an expectation of privacy (e.g. in your home). Infrared is a "public airwave" (AFAIK it's not regulated by the FCC, whereas cell phone frequencies actually are regulated). Infrared can also be received by anyone in a public place with the appropriate tools.

    And it does not require police to look at an individual house. They can easily scan many houses, for instance by flying overhead in a helicopter and aiming the thermal camera down below.

    It could also be argued that this form of control tower spoofing allows the police to "see" inside many homes, by virtue of being able to locate a person who would not otherwise be visible.

     

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  57.  
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    Brendan (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 10:06am

    defense?

    I'd like to see carriers and phone OS vendors work together here to patch this vulnerability. Whether that involves some cryptographic authentication, or merely clever finger printing.

    I hope my phone can learn how to ignore this type of man in the middle attacker.

     

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  58.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 10:29am

    Re:

    Awww... You think the government cares about people's rights. You're so cute.

     

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  59.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 10:33am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: As they knew the phone "number", should have gotten a warrant.

    "Criminals know they can be wiretapped and the government doesn't hide that ability."

    Yes, and this is why they use random pay phones, neighbors phones, and other methods for communication because it is incredibly hard to get warrants for every phone in a building or neighborhood.

    "I disagree. Both are electromagnetic energy (one is infrared, one is microwave). Both signals originate from places known to have an expectation of privacy (e.g. in your home). Infrared is a "public airwave" (AFAIK it's not regulated by the FCC, whereas cell phone frequencies actually are regulated). Infrared can also be received by anyone in a public place with the appropriate tools."

    One is naturally occuring, one is not. One is the results of a natural process, one intentionally broadcasts a signal far beyond any walls in order to get service. One requires that you know where to look for it, the other is broadcast widely over a significant area. One can be turned off, one cannot.

    They are the same as a snake and a piece of string.

     

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  60.  
    icon
    PrometheeFeu (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 10:41am

    I think the warrant question should be solved pretty easily. If a normal citizen would not be allowed to do something, law enforcement needs a warrant to do it.

     

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  61.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 10:59am

    Re:

    Laser based listening devices are just picking up audio vibrations of the publicly visible parts of your windows so obviously using one to intercept a conversation that took place in private is completely in keeping with the 4th amendment. I mean the signal is received in a public area, they don't have to go into the house to modify it to do this sort of thing.

     

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  62.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 11:03am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The 4th amendment protects persons not airwaves. Is there a reasonable expectation of privacy while carrying a cell phone that's powered on? Absolutely, yes. It doesn't matter that you're using 'public' airwaves or that the phone constantly sends out a radio signal, a reasonable person would expect their location to be private even if they had a cell phone on at the time.

     

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  63.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 11:14am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: As they knew the phone "number", should have gotten a warrant.

    So it's ok to snoop on frequencies in the 'cell phone signal' range of the spectrum but not on the infrared range of the spectrum. There is no difference between the two. They're both waves, they both propagate in a sphere into 'public' areas, and it's irrelevant that the waves do that because the 4th amendment protects persons not waves.

     

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  64.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 11:16am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: As they knew the phone "number", should have gotten a warrant.

    Your 'naturally occurring' argument has no basis for distinction under the law. Just because the radio waves propagate father is not a significant difference nor is the fact that you can turn off the phone. They're the same as a snake and another slightly different colored snake.

     

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  65.  
    icon
    RobShaver (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 11:33am

    Re: Re: What Constitutional Right is That?

    You're sending out electromagnetic radiation. Light is electromagnetic radiation too. Pretty soon you'll by saying it's a violation of your constitutional rights if anybody just looks at you.

    Defense Attorney: "Officer, how did you find my client?"
    Officer: "I saw him walking out of the Denny's on 5th Ave."
    Defense Attorney: "Did you have a warrant to look at him or were you intercepting his electromagnetic emanations in violation of his constitutionally protected rights to reflect light privately?"
    Officer: "What???"

     

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  66.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 12:47pm

    Re: Re: Big fat deal!

    how can I have any confidence that my call to 911 isn't going into some black hole that the Stingray is creating?


    They're using (or could use) common off-the-shelf equipment to do this, most likely. You could do the exact same thing.

    Also assuming that (for cost reasons) they're using the most inexpensive solution for their problem -- tracking cell phones -- then they aren't creating a black hole at all. The cell phone contacts the fake tower, the fake tower says "I can't handle your call", the cell phone uses a different (real) tower. You can still make calls to 911 or anywhere else.

    If they are also listening in on conversations, they have to use slightly (but not outrageously) more expensive equipment. This acts as a full on tower and actually handles the call. To avoid interfering with the call, it would pass the data on to another tower and be a Man in the Middle.

     

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  67.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 12:51pm

    Re: Re: "The secret police" are hated with good reason.

    The really big criminal fish wil find out how it works - and then have an edge over you because you still assume they don't know.


    And the little ones, too. You can easily get all the information you need yourself through Google. Really, this kind of equipment has been around for a long time, and the information you need to use it (or even to build it) and detect it is hardly a secret. If they're keeping it a secret to prevent countermeasures, they failed years before they even thought of doing this.

     

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  68.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 1:18pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

     

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  69.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 1:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/202317/gsm_phone_hack_faq_what_you_should_know.html

    Oh I get it, you are a government employee that is why you think everything is so expensive and big.

    Or are you from Texas?

     

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  70.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 1:28pm

    Re: Re: Re: As they knew the phone "number", should have gotten a warrant.

    Now after all that talk where are the safeguards to assure it is only being used for legal purposes and not to spy on his wife, spy on his boss, spy on his disafect, spy on his dry cleaner(remember the judge?).

    Where are the focking safeguards?

     

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  71.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 1:29pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: As they knew the phone "number", should have gotten a warrant.

    lame!

     

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  72.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 1:30pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: As they knew the phone "number", should have gotten a warrant.

    So all that radio background noise emanating from space is intentionally broadcast?

     

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  73.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 1:47pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: FCC

    I think you'll find its 6 figures

     

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  74.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 1:49pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Excuse the new icon. Different PC.

    With GSM and UMTS at least there is a short period at the start of every single call where it's not encrypted. It's a necessity to enable the phone and tower to talk enough to agree on a radio channel and encryption from then on. I don't know well enough about CDMA/EVDO

     

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  75.  
    identicon
    S, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 3:32pm

    Re: Re: Re: What Constitutional Right is That?

    Great -- now you won't complain if all the light bulbs in your house are replaced with thorium and radium plugs because gamma rays are "electromagnetic radiation" just like visible light. Got it.

     

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  76.  
    identicon
    S, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 3:33pm

    Re: Re:

    Of course the gov't cares about the public's rights!

    It has to know which ones are still being taken seriously so it knows which liberties to erode next!

     

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  77.  
    identicon
    S, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 3:34pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: FCC

    . . . for the cheapest equipment.

    We all know how gov't provisioning goes; $5 for the part and $95k for the procuring agent.

     

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  78.  
    icon
    Ron Rezendes (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 3:36pm

    Re: Re: Re: As they knew the phone "number", should have gotten a warrant.

    "First off, you have to understand that this isn't something done without probably cause. Police aren't driving around randomly intercepting cell phone calls to see what is going on."

    Citation requested

    This is ALWAYS the first line of defense when our Constitutional rights are threatened or breached.

    "It's not like we didn't have a reason..."

    Well, it's not like I don't have any rights as a citizen!

    Inevitably, the technology ALWAYS get misused by the people who are supposed to be working for us and protecting us.

    I challenge anyone to show evidence of a single piece of modern technology (say, last 20 years)that has NOT been misused by authorities! Anyone up for that challenge?

     

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  79.  
    icon
    Ron Rezendes (profile), Sep 27th, 2011 @ 3:38pm

    Re: Re: Binoculars next?

    "Your cell phone will broadcast your location even when you are in the privacy of your own home."

    Let me fix that for you...

    Your cell phone will broadcast your location even when you are in your own home.

    Privacy is only a legend, and by that, I mean a myth!

     

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  80.  
    identicon
    S, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 3:44pm

    Re: Re:

    You forgot a sarc tag . . . I hope.

     

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  81.  
    identicon
    S, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 3:47pm

    Re: "law enforcement".

    I like how you enquote "law enforcement" -- very appropriate.

     

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  82.  
    identicon
    DC, Sep 27th, 2011 @ 7:32pm

    Re: Re: Re: What Constitutional Right is That?

    So you really don't see a problem with this? We really need a fascist button, or a moron button, or both.

     

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  83.  
    icon
    Butcherer79 (profile), Sep 28th, 2011 @ 1:06am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: As they knew the phone "number", should have gotten a warrant.

    "I challenge anyone to show evidence of a single piece of modern technology (say, last 20 years)that has NOT been misused by authorities! Anyone up for that challenge?"

    The Segway human transporter, has been used by police, but not misused (as far as I have looked).
    Aprilla's Fuel cell bike, can't find anything about authorities even knowing about it, let alone using/abusing it.

     

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  84.  
    icon
    Badger (profile), Sep 28th, 2011 @ 4:59am

    Re: Re: Binoculars next?

    So... am I allowed to look if you left the curtains open?

     

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  85.  
    icon
    Bergman (profile), Sep 28th, 2011 @ 5:04am

    Re: Re: Re: Big fat deal!

    Problem is, how is that NOT intercepting an electronic communication?

     

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  86.  
    icon
    Butcherer79 (profile), Sep 28th, 2011 @ 5:31am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Big fat deal!

    It appears my guess above was/is wrong, from the rest of this thread, as I understand it, the cell will attempt connection with this tower as well as multiple real towers, not that it hijacks the call and then passes it on. I presume it will keep the connection until it is out of range? As it is not from the network's company I doubt it can transmit on their behalf.
    So if it is just finding the phone and not transmitting I don't think that can be called interception.

     

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  87.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 28th, 2011 @ 9:27am

    Re: Re: Re: What Constitutional Right is That?

    Actually intercepting light is also a violation of someones constitutionally protected rights to reflect light privately if there's a reasonable expectation of privacy where they are reflecting light. The police cannot put visible light cameras in your home, for example, to record such light without a warrant. "In plain sight" is the exception, not the rule.

     

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  88.  
    identicon
    Jeff Rife, Sep 28th, 2011 @ 10:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Big fat deal!

    The cell phone contacts the fake tower, the fake tower says "I can't handle your call", the cell phone uses a different (real) tower.
    To do this, the fake tower would also have to say "I am part of the 'whatever' network", which means it would be easily identifiable as a fake, unless it is lying by using a real network (Verizon, Sprint, etc.), or the cellular carriers are part of this charade.

    Also, if it transmits anything back on regulated frequencies, it must be licensed by the FCC, regardless of whether it is used by law enforcement (e.g., police radios are regulated by the FCC).

     

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  89.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 28th, 2011 @ 11:54am

    Re: Re: Re: Binoculars next?

    Actually, yes, so long as you are doing it with your naked eyes and you are in a place you are legally allowed to be.

     

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  90.  
    icon
    Ron Rezendes (profile), Sep 28th, 2011 @ 2:09pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: As they knew the phone "number", should have gotten a warrant.

    I tagged you as insightful for both examples but I haven't gone looking into either one, yet!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  91.  
    icon
    Butcherer79 (profile), Sep 29th, 2011 @ 3:30am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: As they knew the phone "number", should have gotten a warrant.

    I like a good challenge, happy to impress!

     

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  92.  
    identicon
    FreeForAll, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 4:56pm

    Re: sad sad sad

    Agreed. The future looks grim for individual rights. The courts are the only thing that stands between the citizens and a total police state.

     

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  93.  
    identicon
    jaz, Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 4:07am

    things like this act like a proxy server, cellphones in that designated location locks on into a "stringray" tower, law enforcement will be alerted when a particular phone that they are tracking roams into that "tower".

    Technically speaking, all cellphones in that location can be tracked by big brother. This is just insane

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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