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US Pushing Local Police To Keep Quiet On Cell-Phone Surveillance Technology 253

schwit1 (797399) writes with this story from the Associated Press, as carried by Yahoo News: The Obama administration has been quietly advising local police not to disclose details about surveillance technology they are using to sweep up basic cellphone data from entire neighborhoods, The Associated Press has learned. Citing security reasons, the U.S. has intervened in routine state public records cases and criminal trials regarding use of the technology. This has resulted in police departments withholding materials or heavily censoring documents in rare instances when they disclose any about the purchase and use of such powerful surveillance equipment. Federal involvement in local open records proceedings is unusual. It comes at a time when President Barack Obama has said he welcomes a debate on government surveillance and called for more transparency about spying in the wake of disclosures about classified federal surveillance programs.
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US Pushing Local Police To Keep Quiet On Cell-Phone Surveillance Technology

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  • Oh my ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MondoGordo ( 2277808 ) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @05:51PM (#47225421)
    ...and the police state gears up ...
    • by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @05:58PM (#47225475) Homepage Journal

      Obama is a politician. By definition, when he opens his mouth, he's lying.*

      * DISCLAIMER: This also applies to Boehner, Pelosi, Cantor, Reid, McConnell and any other politician.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Which is why, if you continue to vote for either of the two incumbent parties, you're part of the problem. And why I am a Libertarian. I'm sure the Libertarian party will have similar issues at some point, if they get stronger, however the Libertarian are the best guidelines for why this stuff matters more than most people care about. So I am not worried about Libertarian party getting corrupt any time soon.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by s.petry ( 762400 )

          If everyone starts to vote for Libertarian the problem will just be extended. Look at how the "insiders" have taken over groups like the "Tea Party" and moved them from grass roots "People" back to "Career Politicians with new branding.

          I certainly appreciate the motivation, but if you are not addressing the right problem then the solution will also be incorrect. The real problem is that corrupt politicians have become entrenched in every possible political office. In order to fix things, the entrenched po

    • Notice at about 34 seconds, he's trying to figure out how to lie convincingly.

    • by Imrik ( 148191 )

      Would rather hear Senator Obama debate against President Obama.

  • Stingrays (Score:5, Insightful)

    by globaljustin ( 574257 ) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @05:59PM (#47225481) Journal

    this is about Stingrays... []

    more importantly, sources and methods

    i think the Justice Dept. is trying to keep this tech out of the hands of the general public

    they can't, of course

    • Re:Stingrays (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jody Williams ( 3688505 ) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @06:01PM (#47225491)
      Perhaps as a secondary rationale. Primarily, they are trying to continue to circumvent privacy protections, warrant requirements, etc. and don't want people to know how they are doing such things so they can't put together a proper case against them.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      > i think the Justice Dept. is trying to keep this tech out of the hands of the general public

      I expect it is really about the fact that if people know how it works, it becomes easy to avoid.

      It should be super simple to write an app that will detect them and warn you about it. They all work by putting up a "microcell" and convincing your phone to connect to their microcell and then on the back-end they route your calls back through the regular cell network. The thing is, they have to use a tower-id that

    • Re:Stingrays (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Thruen ( 753567 ) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @07:23PM (#47225991)
      It's already in the hands of the public, really. Someone used one as part of a demonstration at Defcon in 2010. [] What I imagine they don't want is to show the public how capable they are of collecting all the information they want without anyone else needing to know, like any business providing any sort of transparency report.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The smartphone: a general purpose computational device with a GPS, camera and microphone, typically carried around on one's person or in one's general vicinity at all times. Most smartphones have built-in functionality below the operating system layer that allows the carrier to execute arbitrary code on the device.

    It's the ultimate tracking tool.

  • by blackiner ( 2787381 ) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @06:03PM (#47225505)
    The more I hear about them trying to quell discussion about these things the more interested I get. What in the world is so important about them? What are they hiding? I saw a strange object on a power pole when I was out for a run the other day, it looked like tree roots laid out horizontally... I can only assume it was an antenna of some sort. Was gone the very next day, and wasn't there the day before either... I wonder if it was one of these things?
    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Re What in the world is so important about them? What are they hiding?
      The tech is now very cheap (down from federal/mil/spy/nation only funding) . You are getting a lot of info about people, movements and their devices in a region for state/city funding.
      Done with other tech you can get: passenger, driver faces, all the unique data about a phone, data use, location, duration, who is around you. Over time the next step is the voice print.
      The legality question is that: fishing for 'anyone' or 'anythi
  • by Dega704 ( 1454673 ) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @06:03PM (#47225509)
    Those spoofed Obama posters that replaced HOPE with OBEY seem more and more appropriate.
  • by FudRucker ( 866063 ) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @06:05PM (#47225529)
    the federal government cant keep any secrets they are too clumsy, stupid and corrupt to garner loyalty from that many police officers
    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      Already done. Local cops are morons. Nobody told them not to sit around and bullshit about all their cool tech with the local riff-raff.

  • ...the words coming out of these politician's mouths were what they were putting onto paper with their pens, the world would be a much better place. Instead, we have them insisting one thing publicly, while working against that idea in every way possible behind closed doors.

    • We get what we are willing to settle for.

      Politicians are to voters what teen-aged boys are to the teen-aged girls they'd like to procreate with.

      They say what they need to in order to get erected, er, elected.

  • by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @06:11PM (#47225565) Journal

    98% of you will still vote democrat or republican, thinking this time things will change. You're right. Things will change... for the worse. And then you will STILL vote democrat or republican again. You have the government you asked for. And quit your bellyaching about lack of choice. I ain't listening. It's bullshit. You decide who is on the ballot.

    • by rossz ( 67331 ) <`ogre' `at' `'> on Thursday June 12, 2014 @06:16PM (#47225593) Homepage Journal

      Voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil.

      If every single person who said they would vote third party if it wasn't throwing away their vote actually voted third party, we'd see some serious changes. Just accept that it doesn't matter one bit whether a democrat or a republican wins the election. The results will be the same. Once you accept this simple truth, you are free. Now you can vote for a third party candidate without that fear of letting "the other guy" win. Vote third party. Always. I don't care which third party. Just don't vote for the status quo.

      • Voting 3rd party isn't throwing your vote away. Most elections are only won by a few percent. When politicians see votes going to 3rd party candidates they ask how they can take those votes, and if borrowing a few ideas from the 3rd party is cheap enough they will do it. So voting 3rd party will shift the politics of the major candidates.
    • by OhPlz ( 168413 )

      I don't believe that the federal government can change. It's corrupt at all levels. It's too far removed from the people. We need to push control back to the states where the power is more local and the people have more ability to ensure that their representatives actually represent them.

    • How can we? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      When Ralph Nader was running in 2000, he was barred from the debates. []

      The Democrats and Republicans have a oligarchy here in the States when it comes to political candidates.

      We also have a populace that has been programmed by propaganda to fear the "other side" soooo bad, that they'll vote for the "lesser evil".

      There are plenty of BS reasons and rationals that people use - "throwing your vote away" is the most idiotic one of all.

      So, people, the parent is right. And we DO have the government that reflects

    • That's why I chose my sig carefully.

  • by NotSanguine ( 1917456 ) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @06:22PM (#47225625) Journal

    Is why does the Federal government care? That they do begs the question, what are they trying to hide? Are the Stingrays (which are useful as a law enforcement tool -- assuming proper warrants are obtained and appropriate restrictions adhered to) just a smokescreen for other spy technologies being used by the Feds (think parallel construction here) and shared with local LEO? If so, that's a big problem.

    If not, I'm guessing that Hanlon's Razor [] applies here in spades.

    • by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @01:05AM (#47227405)

      Are the Stingrays (which are useful as a law enforcement tool -- assuming proper warrants are obtained and appropriate restrictions adhered to) ...

      There are no proper warrants that can be acquired that can authorize the Constitutional use of a Stingray device, nor are there appropriate restrictions other than a total ban on their use. They are the very definition of blanket surveillance and can not be used in any other way. There is no way to utilize them in a warranty-compliant manner because they will always sweep up the details of everyone in the vicinity, and there is no warrant for that. They are impossible to target, therefore their use by law enforcement (or any private organization being using to whitewash their use by law enforcement) is unconstitutional and therefore illegal.

      That's black letter law, too, which is why it's being hidden. There is no sell-us-down-the-river Supreme Court decision that has ruled blanket surveillance legal, unlike, say, the assinine decision that is going to get the 11th Circuit overturned for claiming we have an expectation of privacy for our cell phone records (we do, but the Supreme Court has already ruled, in a massive fit of stupidity, that we don't because the phone company is some sort of magical "third party"). That hasn't happened (yet) with blanket surveillance, and it's hard to imagine even the Roberts court going that far around the bend.

      That said, I echo the question you and others posted. How could these devices possibly be so valuable that federal agents are conspiring with local law enforcement to hide their illegal use? I'm assuming they're just unwilling to give up their toys, any toy at all, like the petulant children they are.

  • This must be that "transparency" I've been hearing so much about.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The USA was the first nation to mandate BY LAW that every cell phone sold in the USA had to constantly provide location tracking information, and the laughable excuse given by Congress is that this facility would help locate some 911 callers. This functionality became a requirement MANY years ago, and has absolutely NOTHING to do with GPS.

    After the new law, Hollywood modified the plots of its TV dramas to account for the fact that anyone with a powered mobile phone was locatable to within several meters usi

    • by mythosaz ( 572040 ) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @07:07PM (#47225877)

      Hollywood uses phone tracking when it's convenient to the plot, and discards it when it's not. The biggest procedural crime drama on TV (NCIS) had phones being instantly trackable as recently as this season, with people specifically removing their batteries for exactly that reason. That same show ignores that ability when it makes the storyline more interesting without it.

      No secret conspiracy to show it one way or the other.

      Take off your tinfoil hat and go out side, dolt.

  • This is going to come out. Not if, just when.
    When it does - lots of local heads will roll. Politically, not literally.

    The scope is very large. The level of participation is very large. The value of a leak is huge, so the first leaker wins the lottery - made for life. Do police get paid enough for that to make economic sense? nope.

    The blowback for those who administer this outside of "required to cooperate" is huge. The only response of the leaders that gets them off the hook is to pass that buck upwa

  • by Bob9113 ( 14996 ) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @06:48PM (#47225763) Homepage

    Spidey [] is a stingray detector app developed by the ACLU and MIT. This page [] is a page to get notified when it goes live. The source code is on GitHub []. It works by comparing the towers you can see at any given moment against what you've seen before and data from the OpenCellID Project [].

    Who watches the watchers? I do.

    • by dark_requiem ( 806308 ) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @09:26PM (#47226585)
      This is interesting. I was just discussing this with my friend last night, and proposed this exact solution. However, it's still a reactive solution. It will detect that you may be the victim of a stingray attack, but it won't stop your phone from connecting in the first place. But there is another potential solution, I just don't have enough experience developing android roms to say how it would have to be implemented. The idea is this: maintain a database of all know cell towers (your link to OpenCellID would do nicely, they offer their DB for download). Using a rooted or fully custom ROM, such as cyanogenmod, have the phone compare any new tower to the database prior to connecting. If it doesn't exist in the database, red flag it and don't connect.

      The question is, can this be done on the OS level, or does it have to happen on the driver level? If it can be done at the OS level, easy peasy, just modify the code to establish tower connections to include this check. If it has to happen on a driver level, it gets trickier. Most phones use proprietary binary drivers for their cell radios, so they couldn't be readily modified. However, it may be possible to load an intermediate driver, which in turn loads the proprietary driver. If it could be determined which driver calls involved connecting to a new tower, you could just pass through everything else, and only pass through calls to the tower connect function if they passed your database lookup. Trickier, but doable. Because really, you want to avoid connecting to these things at all. Nice though it is to see you're being attacked, it's better to stop the attack before it starts.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I'm a major C/C++ developer with the skills you mention.

        I've already started work on such a tool and will be instead changing my efforts to enhance the provided GitHub page.

        I'm also aiming to replace the binary blob with a debugging shim that *then* uses the blob. Essentially keeping a log of what's going on there.

        Don't worry brother. Others are also outraged and using their development skills to fight for freedom.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        This would almost certainly need work at the driver level. I'd be rather astonished if the decision to switch towers is made outside the driver. Most likely this doesn't even reach the processor(s) running the main kernel and remains on the isolated processor which handles talking to the cell network. This might be something to hope for in the future, but it will take pushing the various companies to add this feature. You might be able to get this feature out of CryptoPhone [] in a reasonable timeframe.

  • behind your Canadian brothers will not leave you behind []

    Well I was sharpening my pitch fork last night but my neighbors think that I'm crazy.

  • by Crashmarik ( 635988 ) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @07:02PM (#47225843)

    Not that his opposition was any better but really people were acting like he was the second coming.
    Turns out it was the second coming of Richard Nixon.

    Anyway it shouldn't surprise anyone that this came out of a big government establishment administration.

  • ... you complaining while he plugs his ears and yells LA LA LA LA LA. XD

  • It's odd how the article keeps saying Obama Administration, especially when you know that the whitehouse isn't wasting it's time on local stuff like that.
    They should specify which departments or people are actually making these demands for the locals to not release the info.
    They do state specifically in one case, and that was the FBI. You know, one of those three letter agencies that happily lie to Congress, the Senate, and the Whitehouse.
    • Okay, quick breakdown we have the three branches of government. Law enforcement reports up through the DOJ to the President. Actually all federal government functions except those of congress, and the judiciary are run from the White House. Here's a little graphic that shows this. [] The FBI is under the white house. Now, they're supposed to be independent and work within the law, but in the past we know that the FBI has done some underhanded things. Things like the whole Whitey Bulger affair. []

  • Talking out both sides of his mouth. Or delegating all the offensive stuff for cronies to pass on so he can pretend his hands are clean...

    Not saying anyone else would be any better.

    Just making an observation.

  • Bushitler wouldn't be in office forever. Hoping for a change, we finally have a real chance of electing a President, who is both technologically savvy [] and committed to open government []!

    Oh, wait...

  • No doubt these devices operate by exploiting security vulnerabilities in the cel networks. If info got out about how it works, they'd have to upgrade every cel tower in existance at crushing expense. "Can you hear me now?"
    • no, its not a vulnerability. calea laws ensure that comms equipment MUST be tappable by The Man(tm).

      cell repeaters are no different. everything that 'talks' has to be tappable, by US law.

      it sucks and I hate that concept, but it is currently US law.

      if there is a 'vulnerability' the vendor was told to put it there under pain of, well, you know what.

  • I wonder if criminal trials or civil suits are taking place while the state or federal governments withhold information from lawyers or courts. Innocent men could be in prison due to withheld evidence.

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