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Electronic Frontier Foundation Privacy

DOJ Often Used Cell Tower Impersonating Devices Without Explicit Warrants 146

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the bending-the-rules dept.
Via the EFF comes news that, during a case involving the use of a Stingray device, the DOJ revealed that it was standard practice to use the devices without explicitly requesting permission in warrants. "When Rigmaiden filed a motion to suppress the Stingray evidence as a warrantless search in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the government responded that this order was a search warrant that authorized the government to use the Stingray. Together with the ACLU of Northern California and the ACLU, we filed an amicus brief in support of Rigmaiden, noting that this 'order' wasn't a search warrant because it was directed towards Verizon, made no mention of an IMSI catcher or Stingray and didn't authorize the government — rather than Verizon — to do anything. Plus to the extent it captured loads of information from other people not suspected of criminal activity it was a 'general warrant,' the precise evil the Fourth Amendment was designed to prevent. ... The emails make clear that U.S. Attorneys in the Northern California were using Stingrays but not informing magistrates of what exactly they were doing. And once the judges got wind of what was actually going on, they were none too pleased:"
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DOJ Often Used Cell Tower Impersonating Devices Without Explicit Warrants

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  • by cyrano.mac (916276) on Thursday March 28, 2013 @05:25PM (#43306939)
    There are no limits to what a DIY-er kan buy in China. And with SDR (software defined radio) and open source GSM software, it takes relatively little effort to build one yourself. There's even a small GSM router (20-30 euros on evilbay) that's very popular for that sort of projects. It holds the GSM modem and Wifi, so you can easily control it from a laptop.
  • by girlinatrainingbra (2738457) on Thursday March 28, 2013 @05:34PM (#43306997)
    Harris makes them. The devices are supposedly only sold to law-enforcement agencies and government agencies. Disambiguate "stingray" to find a little info:
    1 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stingray_phone_tracker [wikipedia.org]
    2 - Wall Street Journal article [wsj.com] "'Stingray' Phone Tracker Fuels Constitutional Clash"
    3 - another WSJ article [wsj.com] about "Judge Questions Tools That Grab Cellphone Data on Innocent People"

    Essentially, the "Stingray" sends out a signal pretending to be a cell-phone tower. Your cellphone thinks it's found a great super-strong tower nearby, detaches from the real cell-phone towers and bonds to the Stingray and attempts to communicate through it. Now, the DOJ (or whomever) has performed a Man in the Middle (a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man-in-the-middle_attack MITM ) attack on your cell phone's communication with it's cellular service company. It impersonates a cellular tower.
    .
    Here's an interesting point from the WSJ article:

    ... Stingray equipment can be carried by hand or mounted on vehicles or even drones.
    ... The best known stingray maker is Florida-based defense contractor Harris Corp. A spokesman for Harris declined to comment.
    ... Harris holds trademarks registered between 2002 and 2008 on several devices, including the StingRay, StingRay II, AmberJack, KingFish, TriggerFish and LoggerHead. Similar devices are available from other manufacturers. According to a Harris document, its devices are sold only to law-enforcement and government agencies.
  • Re:Tools (Score:5, Informative)

    by hawguy (1600213) on Thursday March 28, 2013 @05:45PM (#43307075)

    From the EFF article:

    The Court therefore ORDERS, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(b); Title 18, United States Code, Sections 2703 and 3117; and Title 28, United States Code, Section 1651, that Verizon Wireless, within ten (10) days of the signing of this Order and for a period not to exceed 30 days, unless extended by the Court, shall provide to agents of the FBI data and information obtained from the monitoring of transmissions related to the location of the Target Broadband Access Card/Cellular Telephone...

    What part of that do you think authorizes the DoJ to intercept everyone's calls while looking for the target device? It might be argued that the authorities were working as agents of Verizon, but it also might be argued that Pink Unicorns did the interceptions, and I don't think the court is going to accept either one.

  • Re:Tools (Score:5, Informative)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Thursday March 28, 2013 @05:46PM (#43307091) Journal

    It might be argued that the authorities were working as an agent for Verison to gather the information.

    If the police have a warrant for Verizon, it tells Verizon what to do.
    Otherwise, the police need a specific warrant for everything else they intend to do.

    In other words, a warrant allows for [company] to act as an agent for the State.
    It never(?) works the other way around.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 28, 2013 @07:20PM (#43307755)

    It has no legal bearing. It just means the company won't sell one to you. You can't get one without contacts.

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