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Government Cellphones Communications Privacy United States

Virginia Police Spent $500K For An Ineffective Cellphone Surveillance System (muckrock.com) 36

Cell-site simulators can intercept phone calls and even provide locations (using GPS data). But Virginia's state police force just revealed details about their actual use of the device -- and it's not pretty. Long-time Slashdot reader v3rgEz writes: In 2014, the Virginia State Police spent $585,265 on a specially modified Suburban outfitted with the latest and greatest in cell phone surveillance: the DRT 1183C, affectionately known as the DRTbox. But according to logs uncovered by public records website MuckRock, the pricey ride was only used 12 times — and only worked seven of those times.
According to Virginia's ACLU director, "each of the 12 uses cost almost $50,000, and only 4 of them resulted in an arrest [raising] a significant question whether the more than half million dollars spent on the device and the vehicle...was a wise investment of public funds."
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Virginia Police Spent $500K For An Ineffective Cellphone Surveillance System

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  • This is a non-issue. They don't throw away the car after one year.
    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      True. And the cost/arrest concept is broken too. Would the arrests have been made anyway? Could they have been made another way?

      When people have a tool they use it, whether it is the use-case that was supposed to justify the purchase -- and that can be a good thing (because the widget is earning its keep) or a bad thing (using a tool that's overkill, to expensive to operate, or counterproductive). The real question is what did they specifically buy this for? If the cost justification was that it was go

      • by plover ( 150551 )

        That "5 of 12 were ineffective" carries the flawed implication that the device is filled with magic pixie dust that should somehow be 100% effective. Cell phone signals vary all over the place, by technology, by topography, by carrier, and were never designed to be perfectly interceptable by a man-in-the-middle box. Detecting them properly also requires some skill on the part of the operator. The fact that the machine yielded some signals that were actually intercepted by these techno-rookies is fairly r

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      I'd be surprised if the vehicle represented more than 10% of the total equipment price. Even if you can repurpose the truck, most of that investment is gone.

  • The levels of incompetence and stupidity are hilarious. Thankfully, I don't live in the Commonwealth of Virginia. More like the People's Republic of Virginia.
    • What makes you believe this story isn't fake news? At this point do you really expect the government to tell you the truth about how they are shredding the Bill of Rights?

      I'm not saying it's impossible. Maybe this particular surveillance system didn't work well. In that case, you should be asking about the other ones.

      Don't look at me that way. I was getting paranoid even before Putin's puppet snuck into the big white house. I also think Snowden is a sincere pawn and Hastings was snuffed by a hacked car. I'm

  • Who? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This cost the VSP $585,265, and came complete with a whole bunch of accessories, including a Chevrolet Suburban outfitted specifically to run the device.

    Two important questions remain unanswered

    • Who made the decision to buy it? Current article makes it look like Virginia State Police is a hive mind entity
    • Who sold it (and thus profited)
  • Every program that invades the privacy of anyone other than known or suspected criminals and their associates, should fail in a similarly spectacular fashion.

    • Because giving up liberty for security does not make society safer.
    • by Mitreya ( 579078 )

      Every program that invades the privacy of anyone other than known or suspected criminals and their associates, should fail in a similarly spectacular fashion.

      Until the responsible person is at least fired, it hasn't failed in the right way
      For all we know, the solution will be to replace the $500K device by a $10M device (hey, it worked for TSA -- when 1st gen machines were deemed unsafe, they just bought a round of 2nd gen machines without as much as an apology).

  • ... proof of concept.

    They got their inspiration from Microsoft.

  • Water is wet and fire burns.

    What I find amusing is the number of people that just go bonkers over their cell phones. That damn thing is nothing but an opportunity for LEO to bag you. It is not your friend. It will never be a source of exculpatory evidence. It only will be used against you and will never, not ever, show innocence. (OK, -almost- never)

    Folks say "Oh, I'm not worried, I'm not a criminal".
    Er, ever see the number of times a day the average American commits a crime? You may not think you are a cri

    • Water is wet and fire burns.

      What I find amusing is the number of people that just go bonkers over their cell phones. That damn thing is nothing but an opportunity for LEO to bag you. It is not your friend. It will never be a source of exculpatory evidence. It only will be used against you and will never, not ever, show innocence. (OK, -almost- never)

      Folks say "Oh, I'm not worried, I'm not a criminal". Er, ever see the number of times a day the average American commits a crime? You may not think you are a criminal, but so many things are illegal that most do actually commit some sort of crime every day. It's just a matter of if LEO wants to enforce the law against -you- for whatever reason takes their fancy.

      Speaking of water being wet, if LEO wants to enforce the law against you to find one of many crimes you've committed, it hardly takes you owning a cell phone to do it.

      But hey, if you're that concerned about it, don't use one. In today's environment, you'll stick out like a target just ripe for further investigation.

  • by The Grim Reefer ( 1162755 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @03:34PM (#53420985)
    FTA:

    Virginia being one of the few states to have passed legislation curtailing the use of these exceptionally powerful devices, and mandating warrants and probable cause be obtained prior to their use.

    So they don't just use this thing to go after people with an unpaid parking ticket at the discretion of the local meter maid. They actually have to get a warrant. I think this is a good thing personally. I'd rather they have this thing for when it's truly needed, but have it's use limited.

    A glance at the log seems to show that in at least 5 out of the 12 instances it was used, the device turned out to be ineffectual in locating the suspect.

    So it may not be 100% effective. Are we supposed to be shocked by this? Obviously it would be great if it was. But then, what is in life? Of course there are some qualifiers in the quote above. "A glance" and "seems to show". So we don't really know the full story. Just what the logs appear to indicate. It's kind of like looking at the output from your OBDII logs in your car and trying to judge how much fun you had on your vacation.

    If the log fully documents all usage of the device since it was acquired, each of the 12 uses cost almost $50,000, and only 4 of them resulted in an arrest, she noted.

    Do all investigations result in arrests? I'm pretty sure the answer is no. So why should this be any different. How much does a typical investigation that this thing be used in cost? I would guess it would cost a lot. I'd like to think they're not going after jay walkers with this thing. Did it also turn into a pumpkin? Can it not be used any longer? If not, then the cost per use to date is meaningless.

    I live and pay taxes in Virginia and I suppose I'm looking at this a little differently. I'm happy they aren't running this thing 24/7. It almost seems the author feels they should be using stingrays every functional hour that it can be to get the most hours usage per dollar spent. I'm looking at this like my tap and die set. It cost me a bunch of money, but the few times I needed it at odd hours has made it well worth the cost to me. I'm also happy when it's not needed.

    • I live in Virginia and I think they should push the f***ing thing in the Potomac, or the nearest convenient river.
  • by Macdude ( 23507 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @03:35PM (#53420999)

    Oh great! With the release of this news story the Virginia State Police will feel they need to justify the purchase (rather than admit buying it was a mistake) and will use it whenever they can. It was only used in 12 cases? Wait 6 months and it will be 1,200.

    Why worry about citizen's rights to privacy when you have to justify buying toys!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      1. There is no right to privacy listed in the US Constitution. It's an implied "right" based on a judicial interpolation of the explicit recognition of other rights listed in the Constitution.
      2. The use of the DRTbox was granted by a warrant all nice and legal like.

  • ... or the beancounters'll get ya. MuckRock even sounds like a Wire character.
  • What if (Score:5, Insightful)

    by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @05:25PM (#53421543) Journal

    What if the device has been used a lot, but the majority of uses are clearly illegal? For example, snooping on political enemies.

    The logs would have been purged of the illegal uses, leaving only a small number of occasions that the device would have been used legally.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      The media and bloggers in different states can use FOIA or local laws to see what they can find.
      Paper work should exist at the city and state level that covers budgets or support services for such devices.
      It might not be listed digitally at a national or state level but a physical paper trail might still exist locally.
      If your state has laws that allow state documents to be seen and copied a lot of local information could still be accessed.
      Many state and city workers will request a person shows ID and

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