Drug Dealers Swapping Down To Old Cellphones To Stay One Step Ahead In The 'Tech Arms Race'

from the to-win,-cede-ground dept

The FBI, along with seemingly every law enforcement agency in the country, wants a backdoor into every new, encrypted-by-default cellphone, arguing that without this, the “bad guys” will win the “tech arms race.” The DOJ cited this same “arms race” in its (losing) argument against a warrant requirement for cellphone searches. To hear law enforcement tell it, today’s criminals are racing far ahead of today’s under-equipped cops, who are stymied by their billions of federal drug-chasing dollars, automatic license plate readers, warrantless GPS tracking, building interior-scanning radar devices and cell tower spoofers.

Meanwhile in the UK, some criminals have discovered one way to stay a step ahead of the cops is to take a few steps backward.

A dealer in Handsworth, Birmingham—who would only give his name as “K2″—told me: “I’ve got three Nokia 8210 phones and have been told they can be trusted, unlike these iPhones and new phones, which the police can easily [use to] find out where you’ve been… Every dealer I know uses old phones, and the Nokia 8210 is the one everyone wants because of how small it is and how long the battery lasts.

Old tech beats new tech, at least in some business ventures. The 8210 has 50-150 hours of standby time and an infrared port to quickly beam data from one phone to another (handy for burners or compromised phones). But other than its connection to cell towers, the phone provides no other means of connectivity: no Bluetooth, no WiFi, no WLAN. Nothing.

And while the police should be able to easily obtain call records, cell site location data (along with intercepting signals with IMSI catchers), simply grabbing the phone from a suspected dealer will only reveal the last ten calls sent and received, along with whatever’s been saved to the address book. (‘K2’ halves his exposure by using one for sent calls and one for received.). They’re durable, cheap and unlike today’s smartphones, aren’t “just GPS ankle monitors that double up as pizza-ordering devices,” as Vice’s Mike Zacharanda puts it.

These are the phones police have been able to access for the last 15 years, but it’s only in the last couple that we’ve been hearing sustained noise about cellphones giving criminals a head start in the tech race. But if more criminals begin moving in the other direction, how will law enforcement respond? They’ll have won the arms race but will have gained no ground. They’ll be back in burner territory of yesteryear — small, disposable phones that hold very limited amounts of incriminating evidence. So, it’s back to regular police work, where the seized device doesn’t perform the investigation for you. Which is the way it should be, even now, when technology has expanded far beyond a game of Snake and a 5-line monochrome screen.

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Comments on “Drug Dealers Swapping Down To Old Cellphones To Stay One Step Ahead In The 'Tech Arms Race'”

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Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Let’s be realistic here. They don’t want to spy on the public, we’re not interesting enough to keep their attention. They’re doing it because they’re too lazy to do real detective work and for the appearance of doing something.

The problem that comes with this (and the real reason to stop it) is confirmation bias. Humans are far too damn good at finding patterns where none exist. I guaranty 100% that given enough information I can find enough coincidences to get anyone on any government watch list.

DocGerbil100 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“I guarantee 100% that given enough information I can find enough coincidences to get anyone on any government watch list.”

I’m fairly sure you don’t need anything as esoteric, expensive and work-intensive as information for that.

All you need to do is say “X might be involved in Y” to a surveilling agency and they’ll put them on their watch-list forever. They have every incentive to do so, no incentive not to and no incentive to ever take them off.

They don’t care about anything resembling an articulable reason and why should they? So long as the money keeps rolling in – and they have gaps in their surveillance that they can use as an unquestioned excuse for not catching any real terrorists – they’re on the gravy train for life.

DocGerbil100 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

It’s not whether you’re on the watch-lists, it’s how high up you are.

They’re almost certainly already on the lists, along with everyone else who lives in, works in or ever visits anywhere near a location that’s a potential terrorist target, such as government buildings, shopping centres, schools, parks or streets or houses containing more than three people.

The few people who never go near any of the above are, of course, Officially Suspicious Bastards and go straight to the top of every list there is.

The only guaranteed way not to be on someone’s list is if you were conceived within the last five minutes. This is clearly an oversight that will be corrected in due course. Terrorist embryos around the world beware: the CIA is coming for you soon, with their special $60,000 anti-terrorist coat-hangers.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

The only guaranteed way not to be on someone’s list is if you were conceived within the last five minutes. This is clearly an oversight that will be corrected in due course. Terrorist embryos around the world beware: the CIA is coming for you soon, with their special $60,000 anti-terrorist coat-hangers.

And another instance showing that satire and fiction have nothing on reality.

BernardoVerda says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

It takes even less than that:

NSA targets Linux Journal as ‘extremist forum’: Report

The NSA thinks Linux Journal is an “extremist forum”?

Linux Lands on NSA Watch List

Techanon says:

Re: Re: Re:

They don’t want to spy on the public, we’re not interesting enough to keep their attention.

Wrong, there’s plenty of reasons for them to have an interest in your phone’s content.

Your phone’s content is interesting to them if:
a) you’re a woman (or a man with a girlfriend) that may or may not engage in sexting.
b) if you filmed them on duty (specially if they caused or otherwise participated in an incident).
c) if they want to go on a fishing expedition to charge you with anything and/or to trigger an asset forfeiture.

Leit (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:


…yeah. Not sure I’d trust what’s in chinese hardware, and if there’s a flaw – which is what a backdoor is – then every .gov and their uncle will have their exploits rammed in it good and hard.

Anon Cow says:

Re: Re:

Though I get your point, I don’t see that happening any time soon. They use regular towers. The same towers every other smart phone is and has used for 2 decades now. Even if new technology does come out that will negate the need for towers, it will take years to implement and make it the standard AND end the need for the current towers.
It’s just not something that’s going to happen any time soon.

Long story short, this 16yr old phone will continue to be used for quite some time.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m waiting for someone to create an open source software radio for cellular networks. Then simply program the software radio to add a artificial delay (increase the latency) for the radio signal being sent back to the base stations.

Now the base stations think you’re farther away from them than you really are. Totally throwing off your location through base station triangulation.

Only thing left to do after that is make sure to recompile the Linux kernel without the GPS drivers. Luckily, the Linux kernel uses the GPL v2 license so it’s open source :). Just rip the binary blob GPS driver modules out and recompile the Linux kernel without them.

Interesting times ahead of us. Sure the base station towers might have a good idea which cell zone you’re in. But the exact positional information will be far from accurate. Off by a few miles or more.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sounds like a business opportunity!

I love some of my old phones (that I still have in a drawer somewhere). One old Nokia (don’t remember the model) worked anywhere internationally, was just a phone, the size of a pack of gum, and the battery would last for days!

Anyway, this sounds like a business opportunity, Retro-Phones, Incorporated. Its slogan would be “It’s just a phone!”. It could probably be built and sold at a profit for less than $50USD, unlocked naturally.

Anonymous Coward says:

Cellular telephone towers can pinpoint a person’s location without needing GPS — as Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar found out 20 years ago.

And the ability of the cellular company to remotely turn on the microphone and record everything (even when no calls are being made) was a story that hit the news 10 years ago.

Anonymous Coward says:

That is one reason I take the battery out of the phone and only put it in, if I an not going to be using the phone as a music player in my car. When I pull out the cigarette lighter plug, the phone goes dead, as well as the GPS, and any ability to remotely turn on the mic.

If the phone has now power, then it cannot be activated remotely.

Anon says:

If they were tech savvy...

Open any phone and cut the leads to the GPS antenna.
No signal, no data.
From what I read, it’s a different antenna, would not interfere with phone calls.
(Even an antique phone will give cell tower location data)
Ditto, no data plan, no data?
Factory reset daily?
Or perhaps load up with music so there’s no RAM available for sneaky programs?

Therefore, anyone with a memory full phone is a drug dealer.

GEMont (profile) says:

The Cornered Rat

Ah well, real innovation has always been fueled by adversity and ingenuity and it looks like the world’s police forces have just upped the ante on global adversity and forced the ingenuity of the human critter to jump into high gear.

With luck, all of the nasty semi-legal low-down dirty deeds of the police state and their apologists will be the brain fuel of the future that drives a new industry into prosperity and infamy – public anti-surveillance, encrypted communications devices.

Sure they’ll all be deemed illegal by the Lazy LEOs, but at least they’ll have to catch you doing something truly illegal before they even know you have any of these devices on you.

And better still, with a biometric sensor, once handled by someone other than its last owner, without that last owner signing it over to its new holder via password, such devices self-erase. 🙂

How sad is it that a whole population must hide from its own supposedly freedom loving democratic government, in order to communicate freely without being spied upon, and being stalked 24/7?

layman101 (profile) says:

Old phones don't matter...

The unconstitutionality of SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d)…

Notwithstanding the fact that there is much good that can come from the legitimate (warrant based on probable cause) acquisition of Cell Site Location Information (stored/historical or real time), as of now, the location of wherever you carry your cell phone is recorded by your cellular service providers. In other words for the last several years every place you’ve visited or traveled while your cell phone was in your possession, on or off doesn’t matter, has been recorded and saved and can be handed over to an investigative body who has obtained a court order under SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d).

A court order is issued under a less stringent standard , a offer of “specific and articulable facts”( instead of the highest level of 4th amendment constitutional protection, a warrant based on probable cause see,( http://www.volokh.com/2011/01/11/2703d-orders-in-the-news-no-really).

One may postulate, “oh! I’ll just get around that by carrying burners (disposable phones)”. Yeah, sure, well guess what, we pass through hundreds of cell towers every day. If you have 2, 3, or 4 phones in your car every several seconds they send out signals to cell phone towers and this is how your location is mapped. Your 2,3, or 4 phones are the only phones that would have traveled that same mapped path so by them having your regular phone number they can easily see what phones followed the same cell tower to cell tower path and thus get your burner numbers as well…Wow…Now I understand why crime is down.

One may rationalize by saying, “they can’t pinpoint my exact location”. That may have been the case as of yesteryear but in today’s ever changing world, because technology increases with our every breath they now have what’s known as a femto cell, (see, http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/data-center/pros-and-cons-of-using-femtocells/) which can pinpoint a cellular phone location up to within a ten meters (i.e. to a particular floor, apt, address, etc.)

Another thing worthy of mentioning is the fact that local, state and federal police throughout the U.S. has purchased the ultra expensive stingray (cell tower simulator) device …see, (http://www.ibtimes.com/police-departments-18-states-use-stingray-tech-track-cell-phones-they-wont-talk-about-it-1694552 ). This device tricks a cell phone into thinking they are the cell tower and thus all information that would have been relayed to a cell tower is now relayed to the stingray device. No doubt this information is used to help obtain a court order under SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d).

Once a court order is obtained now law enforcement can get real time and stored/historical CSLI on a person’s regular phone and any additional phones that person may have and thus build a case based on this violation. Under the more stringent standard of a warrant based on probable cause a warrant would have never been issued under these circumstances.

If you’ve been cheating on your spouse at a hotel that info is saved, all mapped out, and waiting.

If you commit a crime at a particular time and you have your cell phone on you…busted.

If you did a drug deal and had your regular phone on you and a year later the guy gets caught and tells…guess what? You was there…busted.

If you live an alternative lifestyle (undercover) and you visit those types of establishments ….guess what…there’s a record.

If you just want to be alone, guess what…they have a record of that.

If the target is mostly “black” criminals and not white collar criminals this would be an abuse of power…

We the People deserve to know the ratio of black versus white targeted via CSLI/HCSLI, people and crime types.

Cellular phones and their residual matter (Cell Site Location Information [CSLI], and Historical Cell Site Location Information [HCSLI] ) have the potential to be a great benefit to humanity or a draconian tool to be used for the same purposes as an implanted chip. This is the case because a cellular phone offers the same, if not more, benefits or ill effects (depending on the person’s perception) as an implanted chip (i.e. location tracking, allows a person to buy and sell, etc. (see, http://www.thenewamerican.com/tech/computers/item/17688-rfid-implants-the-benefits-vs-the-dangers). Can we really name one pertinent thing that a cellular phone does that an implanted chip couldn’t do?

This is the way to defeat this violation… (keep in mind, under this approach our current third party doctrine need not be amended on this issue because since cellular service providers are “agents”, because they collect this data at the behest/instigation of the government ( FCC rule E911), the third party doctrine is inapplicable.

In order to prevail on the issue of historical CSLI and mandate its requiring of a warrant to obtain, one must first attack the constitutionality of SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d) which allows the obtaining of historical/real-time CSLI with a court order.

SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d) is unconstitutional because the U.S. Supreme Court decisions of Lustig, Byars, and countless succeeding federal and state cases that says, ‘anytime the government (police, federal agent, etc) use a private citizen/entity (cellular service provider) as its agent (state actor) in acquiring evidence against someone this invokes the ” full ponoply of constitutional protections” (i.e. …a warrant based on probable cause is needed). This statute also fails both the “public function test” as well as the “lugar test”

The “public function test” states that a private entity will be considered a state actor if the private entity assumes or is delegated a power “ traditionally exclusively reserved to the State”, see Jackson v Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, at 352 (1964). Collecting evidence for criminal trials has always been the job of the State/Government and its delegated actors/agents.

When we apply the “two part test” that the “Lugar Test” outlines to this issue we see that it too denotes that cellular service providers are state/federal actors and/or agents respectively.

The first part of the Lugar Test states that the deprivation must be caused by the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State or by a rule of conduct imposed by the state or by a person for whom the State is responsible.
The deprivation occurs in the relinquishing of a person’s CSLI/HCSLI by cellular service providers at the behest of the government under the rule of conduct as outlined in rule SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d).

The second part of the Lugar Test states, the party charged with the deprivation must be a person (entity) who may fairly be said to be a state actor. This may be because he is a state official, because he has acted together with or has obtained significant aid from state officials, or because his conduct is chargeable to the State.

The party charged with the deprivation are the cellular service providers because in essence and in fact they are “agents/actors. What had officiated and cemented all cellular service providers statuses as “agents/actors for the government” is the “nexus” that was created in or around 2000 when the government’s FCC issued a set of rules, called the Enhanced 911 rules (E911 rules), that mandated all wireless carriers to collect precise location information in the near future in order to improve the delivery of emergency services…See “The Mobile Wireless Web, Data, Services and Beyond: Emerging Technologies and Consumer Issues, pg. 9… published by the Federal Trade Commission, by Robert Ptofsky February,2002,..see, (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1q7pqeJ0PWGbmJqNVVkVnJSN0h4cHRSQ2hyWnZienR5YlJz/view?usp=sharing).

When you view this “staff report” you will get a unique pre-cell era view of this issue from the mindset of a diverse consortium of individuals who we at the forefront of pioneering cellular technology, rules, and safeguards.
For instance, at the workshop which the aforementioned book pertains to, there was consensus as to the uncertainty of who CSLI (historical and real time) belongs to.

We the People deserves to know who designated this newly developed, highly sensitive, and clearly outside the traditional boundaries of normal protocol who designated a citizens CSLI the property of cellular providers when all cellular providers were required to collect and retain this information at the behest of the government (see rule E911).

We the People deserves to know who designated this newly developed, highly sensitive, and clearly outside the traditional boundaries of past protocols, who designated a citizens CSLI the property of cellular providers when said ownership was clearly uncertain back in 2000.

We the People deserve to know who, how, and when the original intent of the government to collect this newly developed sensitive information that clearly trumps all other technological inventions of our time for E911 purposes transformed into criminal investigations without using the strictest safeguards?

We the People deserves to know how the keenest legal minds in the United States government allowed legislators to enact SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d) unchecked, knowing full well cellular providers were government ‘agents’ for fourth amendment purposes and thus any information acquired by them at the behest of the government could only be turned over by abiding by the strictest of constitutional protocol with respect to a person’s CSLI and HSCLI?

Notwithstanding the meritorious work and energy sacrificed by our hardworking legislators… We the People deserve to know if any other legislators who helped to vote SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d) into being profited from the 5 to 9 billion dollar a year average the Harris Corporation (HRS) made over the years since this unconstitutional enactment, see . The Harris Corporation is the company that makes and sells the devices that capture CSLI and they have been selling these devices to police departments throughout the U.S. .

We the people deserve to know if any of these legislators had investments in Harris Corporation, or its subsidararies , or in any one of the investment companies that hold Harris Corp stock and thus profited from the more than $100 billion dollars made to investors as a direct result of their unconstitutional enactment.

The Wise and Honorable Justices have said in Union Pac. R.Co.V.Botsford. 141 U.S. 250,at 251, ” No right is more carefully guarded, by the common law, than the right of every individual to the possession and control of his own person, free from all restraint or interference of others, unless by clear and unquestionable authority of law.”…and,
The Well-balanced Justices of the court has said in Terry v Ohio 392 U.S. 1, at 15 “Under our decision, courts still retain their traditional responsibility to guard against police conduct which is overbearing or harassing, or which trenches upon personal security without the objective evidentiary justification which the Constitution requires. When such conduct is identified, it must be condemned by the judiciary and its fruits must be excluded from evidence in criminal trials”…most notably,

The Honorable and Well respected Justice Frankfurter has said in Lustig v United States, 338 U.S. 74, at 78-79, “[A] search is a search by a federal agent if he had a hand in it***the decisive factor in determining the applicability of the Byars case is the actuality of a share by a federal official in the total enterprise of securing and selecting evidence by other than sanction means. It is immaterial whether a federal agent originated the idea or joined in it while the search was in progress. So long as he was in it before the object of the search was completely accomplished, he must be deemed to have participated in it.”…also;

The Prestigious Justices of the court have said in Byars v United States, 273 U.S. 28, at 33-34, ” The Fourth Amendment was adopted in view of long misuse of power in the matter of searches and seizures both in England and in the colonies; and the assurance against any revival of it, so carefully embodied in the fundamental law, is not to be impaired by judicial sanction of equivocal methods, which, regarded superficially, may be seen to challenge the illegality but which, in reality, strike at the very substance of the constitutional right.”

Lastly, the initial violative action (“fruit of the poisonous tree”, see ) in our judicial system with regards to this issue occurred with the application of SCA 18 U.S.C. 2703 (d). A poisonous rule or statute is far, far more damaging and destructive than a single piece of poisonous fruit (evidence gained through illegal or unconstitutional means or methods) for it gives rise to baskets upon baskets of poisonous fruit that will surely poison our nation. So to correct the problem you must attack it at its roots, i.e. the initial violation.

In closing, our judicial system is not perfect but is a system that can work if we meticulously safeguard all elements of our Constitution. When we sacrifice one mustard seed weight of our constitutional rights for a paltry gain, sinister intent, or for whatever reason the end result can only lead to chaos, nonconformity, and inconsistency in our courts decisions, judicial mindset, along with increased mayhem in society…as we see today with this issue, this, in addition to the countless snowballing detrimental effects from such violation(s).

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