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What the US Government Doesn’t Want You to Know — How Police Can Now Access Your Cellphone Location

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Increasingly militarized local police forces are using this secretive technology to get cellphone data from entire towns – including from your own home.

All across America, the country’s increasingly militarized local police forces are using a secretive technology to vacuum up cellphone data from entire neighborhoods – including from people inside their own homes – almost always without a warrant. The US government is taking unbelievable measures to make sure you never find out about it. The militarization of America’s local cops is a phenomenon that’s only now getting widespread attention.

* So-called International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers – more often called their popular brand name, “Stingray” – have long been the talk of the civil liberties crowd, for the indiscriminate and invasive way these roving devices conduct surveillance. Stingrays act as fake cellphone towers (usually mounted in a mobile police truck) that police can point toward any given area and force every phone in the area to connect to it. So even if you’re not making a call, police can find out who you’ve been calling, and for how long, as well as your precise location.

* These mass surveillance devices have largely stayed out of the public eye, thanks to the federal government and local police refusing to disclose they’re using them in the first place – sometimes, shockingly, even to judges. As the Associated Press reported this week, the Obama administration has been telling local cops to keep information on Stingrays secret from members of the news media, even when it seems like local public records laws would mandate their disclosure.

* USA Today also published a significant nationwide investigation about the Stingray problem, as well as what are known as “cellphone tower dumps”. When police agencies don’t have Stingrays at their disposal, they can go to cell phone providers to get the cellphone location information of everyone who has connected to a specific cell tower (which inevitably includes thousands of innocent people).

* It’s scary enough to think that the NSA is collecting so much information, but this mass location and metadata tracking at the local level all may be about to change. This week, the ACLU won a historic victory in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (serving Florida, Alabama and Georgia), which ruled that police need to get a warrant from a judge before extracting from your cellphone the location data obtained by way of a cell tower. This ruling will apply whether cops are going after one person, the whole tower and, one can assume, Stingrays.

* The Feds are, in many cases, giving away this highly expensive and intrusive, advanced military technology to local cops for free. When the US government is not loaning police agencies their own Stingrays, the Defense Department and Homeland Security are giving federal grants to cops, which allow departments to purchase the gear at the cost of 00,000 a pop.

No matter how much President Obama talks about how he has “maintained a healthy skepticism toward our surveillance programs”, it seems the Most Transparent Administration in American History™ remains much more interested in maintaining a healthy, top-secret surveillance state.


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“What the US Government Doesn’t Want You to Know — How Police Can Now Access Your Cellphone Location”