The next time your cellphone connects to what it thinks is a cell tower, there’s decent odds it’s actually connecting to a Justice Department airplane in the region designed to spy on you.
New reports out of the Wall Street Journal say that the program has been active since 2007, and relies on Boeing-made “dirtboxes” that trick cellphones into giving up their identification numbers and location.
Officials are refusing so far to comment on the extent of the program, as is in keeping with their long-standing effort to keep such shady activities secret, but those familiar with it say that the routine flights cover “most of the US population.”
Nominally, the flights are run by the Justice Department’s US Marshals Service as a way to search for “criminal suspects.” In practice it is the mother of all fishing expeditions, with each flight netting tens of thousands of cellphones’ data.
The surveillance program takes advantage of cellphones automatically connecting to the closest, strongest tower. Since the “dirtbox” is in a plane instead of in orbit, it is naturally much closer/stronger and catches all cellphones in the area. There is no known protection against such surveillance at this time.