Moscow Metro Deploying Cell Phone Tracking System To Fight 'Thieves' And 'Terrorists'

from the this-all-sounds-very-familiar... dept

More privacy-invasion has arrived in the guise of “good.” This time it’s Russia doing the invading. An article in Izvestia notes that the Moscow Metro is planning to install short-range Stingray-esque cell phone tracking to (ostensibly) recover stolen phones and monitor terrorist activity. It’s all very legal according to the Metro spokesman, who says law enforcement is allowed to track SIM cards without a warrant or additional measures, as the card falls under the category of “company property.”

Andrey Mokhov, the operations chief of the Moscow Metro system’s police department, said that the system will have a range of five meters (16 feet). “If the [SIM] card is wanted, the system automatically creates a route of its movement and passes that information to the station attendant,” Mokhov said.

Many outside experts, both in and outside Russia, though, believe that what local authorities are actually deploying is a “stingray,” or “IMSI catcher”—a device that can fool a phone and SIM into reading from a fake mobile phone tower. (IMSI, or an International Mobile Subscriber Identity number, is a 15-digit unique number that sits on every SIM card.) Such devices can be used as a simple way to see what phone numbers are being used in a given area or even to intercept the audio of voice calls.

Much like so-called “just metadata,” accessing a SIM card via this sort of device opens up the cell phone user to all sorts of dubious surveillance. And, much like US law enforcement claiming license plates only represent a car (not a person), Russian law enforcement is claiming it only tracks “SIM cards,” not individuals.

Keir Giles, of the Conflict Studies Research Centre, an Oxford-based Russian think tank, told Ars that Russian authorities are claiming a legal technicality.

“They are claiming that although they are legally prohibited from indiscriminate surveillance of people, the fact that they are following SIM cards which are the property of the mobile phone operators rather than the individuals carrying those SIM cards makes the tracking plans perfectly legal,” he said, adding that this reasoning is “weaselly and ridiculous.”

This is the way it goes these days, even in the US, which has supposedly held itself to a higher standard when it comes to respecting its citizens’ privacy. Any loophole will do. License plates are not people. Metadata isn’t specific. Long-term tracking isn’t a search or an invasion of privacy. Cell phone tower spoofing equipment and surveillance drones are utilized with little oversight and fewer ground rules, presumably under the assumption that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission. Warrants and other protections are now extraneous niceties.

Of course, Russia has never held itself up a paragon of civil liberties, but critics still find this particular move surprising.

“Many surveillance technologies are created and deployed with legitimate aims in mind, however the deploying of IMSI catchers sniffing mobile phones en masse is neither proportionate nor necessary for the stated aims of identifying stolen phones,” Eric King of Privacy International told Ars.

“Likewise the legal loophole they claim to be using to legitimize the practice—distinguishing between tracking a person from a SIM card—is nonsensical and unjustifiable. It’s surprising it’s being discussed so openly, given in many countries like the United Kingdom, they refuse to even acknowledge the existence of IMSI catchers, and any government use of the technology is strictly national security exempted.”

Like any other broad surveillance effort, no one believes it will be limited to the stated aims. Another point lending credence to the feeling that Russian law enforcement has more than “stolen phones” in mind concerns the logistics: with a range of only 16 feet, a device will need to be placed roughly every 32 feet to be effective, a cost that certainly outweighs the value of the equipment recovered. Of course, as we’ve seen in the past, no one seems able to put a price tag on “preventing terrorism,” and presumably Russia feels the same way. If catching cell phones thieves doesn’t make fiscal sense, fighting an unwinnable war will put the balance sheet back in the black.

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Comments on “Moscow Metro Deploying Cell Phone Tracking System To Fight 'Thieves' And 'Terrorists'”

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Anon E. Mous (profile) says:

As the technology advances so does the way for those to grab your information does and with more ease than ever.

While I think everyone would like to be safe from any people or groups that wants to commit crimes that kill or injure anyone, I am more than sick of the government around the world trying to force feed us that “it’s all for good reasons”

Governments all over the world are grabbing information whether you have done anything or not and does whatever it will with it. The rights of a citizen are now just an illusion.

You more than ever now are looked at as a suspect then you have ever been. How many people who just happened to be minding their own business have gotten their information hoovered up because they happened to in some location at the time.

The way that Governments are taking information from people of all walks of life because they can needs to stop. There is far too much of an intent of misuse of the information they are taking every damn thing they can get on people,all the while justifying it as needed.

Internet Zen Master (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Agreed. Even when the highlight/analysis occasionally seems borderline hyperbolic, it’s still gets the discussion on issues which could directly impact the course of future technology started, which is better than letting shady actions by governments and corporations float by unnoticed (especially if involves copyright/trademark/patent abuse).

Ninja (profile) says:

We should start speaking in code using security buzzwords. Ie, if you want to tell your mom you are gonna cook a nice dinner Saturday in the evening with a nice chunk of beef that’s made in US tell her “Oh great ayatollah allow me to confirm the plans of slaughtering of infidel lambs. We will invoke the name of the Almighty before feasting on their meat.”

That would be funny.

Anonymous Coward says:

At what point does being in public, using public systems and utilities, become an invasion of privacy? What exactly are your expectations of privacy in public? Should everyone turn around when they see you to respect your privacy? You sound like we should call you Oh Mighty One.

I’m not for the spying, far from, but at some point when you go out in public and use public transit, you should not expect any privacy.

According to you, we should stop trying to help people? Got your phone stolen, well it’s your own damn fault, go spend another 500-800$ on a new one… who cares if you got beaten to an inch of your life in the process. Right? Your fault.

You’re basically doing the exact opposite this site is always fighting for. You’re pretty much saying that because something can be used in wrong ways, they should not be used. No sorry, that they should be used like you deem they should. Seems we’re back to the Oh Mighty One…

And if they didn’t do anything, would you be the first one to say, as was the news recently here, that govt don’t spend enough on technology to help its people? Sounds like you’re either extremely pretentious or you have no idea what you want, you’re just bitching cause it’s cool.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

At what point does being an asshat everywhere, sticking a nose in everything become a problem for the rationalizing excuse machine?

I’m not against butt sniffing per se (Ewwww) but at some point you need to find out what is up there – amirite?

According to you we should be proctolizing everyone because they may be up to something. Who cares if they object.

I am going to claim you are arguing against your stated beliefs but I do not have any examples or explanations for the accusation. But it is still valid because I said so.

Then if people do not bend over when told to do so, as seen on the news every day, apologizers will claim people need to bend over more easily in order to help the oppression. Sounds like you are extremely being paid for commenting or have no idea about that which you espouse because it’s cool.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You’re pretty much saying that because something can be used in wrong ways, they should not be used.

On the contrary, it should be used with a very narrow focus, reasonable suspicion AND with a warrant respecting the 4th Amendment. You are the one twisting words.

You seem to be confused. Nobody expects privacy when there’s no reasonable way of granting it. Sometimes you get recorded on video or on a picture when you are in public places, it’s normal and nobody sane will freak out if they see themselves in a video taken by someone else in a public place. Anybody with eyeballs can see you. Also, anyone in a determined place can see you are there at that current time. There’s no expectation of privacy in this sense. However one does not expect to have their location tracked and recorded without proper warrant.

It is expected that the collection of all the places you’ve been in a day, month is not performed without proper warrant and suspicion.

You don’t have lists of which people you’ve met and talked with in person (unless under warrant and investigation) and you should not have such lists on phone calls either.

It’s rather simple. I don’t want the Govt having records of how many times I talked to my mom or of my call to that hooker I like to go out with sometimes. I don’t want the Govt to retain that lovey-dovey e-mail I sent to my girlfriend because it’s mine, it’s private. And there’s no reason for them to be eavesdropping on me. The fact that you don’t see issues is disturbing.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

In my opinion, the real invasion of privacy, and where the line is crossed is in the databases.

If you collect every innocuous and “public” piece of information on someone into a database, the net effect is no different than if you spied on them in unambiguously objectionable ways.

Privacy is being violated, one byte at a time. I would be fine with allowing anyone to capture any data like this if it were illegal to build it into a larger database to be mined.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is funny. When technology is used to infringe you shrug your shoulders and talk about the inevitability of technology and how the companies need to change (because you like getting something of value for nothing). But when technology is used in a way YOU don’t like, there’s a veritable shit-storm and demands for changes to the law.

What a bunch of hypocritical salad tossers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

This is sad. When technology is used to oppress the people you shrug your shoulders and blab about the inevitability of the police state and how people simply need to suck it up (because there is nothing they can do about it anyways). But then technology is used to fight oppression and you get your panties all up in a bunch, flailing about and whining like a child demanding changes to the law to forbid such outrageous activity.

What an asshat.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Phone calls are not public. The entire history, listed and timestamped of where you were is not public unless it’s actively collected. Do you get wet with the thought of the Govt stalking you?

BTW, downloading the latest episode of “Game of Thrones” is not fighting oppression. It’s freeloading. Still.

You see, it’s not easily available for a fair price. The MAFIAA insists in placing artificial restrictions so people download via other means. I’m personally don’t bother anymore with much of the content. If it’s not on Netflix or similar service I’m using then it doesn’t exist. When people start going without your content you should be very scared.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Far as I can figure the ‘cat videos’ thing is to hollywood what ’14 year old’s in the parents’ basement’ is to politicians: a cheap, and downright pathetic attempt to win an argument by trying to paint the opposition, and their opinions, as immature and therefor meaningless.

The fact that using such a tactic instead reveals a stunning lack of maturity or meaningful argument on the part of the ones making it is apparently an irony that is lost to them.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Far as I can figure the ‘cat videos’ thing is to hollywood what ’14 year old’s in the parents’ basement’ is to politicians: a cheap, and downright pathetic attempt to win an argument by trying to paint the opposition, and their opinions, as immature and therefor meaningless.

Bingo. Anyone who thinks there isn’t stunning, amazing, and incredibly powerful professional content being developed and released on YouTube and other platforms for free these days is in deep, deep, deep denial. But, the commenter above is paid to be in denial, so, you know….

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