The NSA isn't alone.
Local law enforcement agencies are doing their best NSA impression by using cellphone towers to track users and gather information. USA Today released a detailed report about the methods 125 police agencies (across 33 states) are using to track citizens, with one surprisingly intricate tactic standing out in particular. The strategy, nicknamed "Stingray," sees law enforcement using a fake cellphone tower that tricks smartphones into connecting with it, at which point authorities suck all of the data they need from phones. The device costs about $400,000, and agencies are able to obtain grants for it by way of the government. Most states lack any laws that make this type of snooping illegal, and police don't even need a warrant to do so. If it's not Stringray, police can use a method called "tower dumps," which downloads information from all of the users of a specific cellphone tower—and all it takes is an hour, maybe two. Regardless, these are complex methods that have been made easy, and take no more time than a long lunch break to do.
The technology will translate all of this data into something readable on officers' laptops, but what information can they read? Well, so far, they can't listen in on calls or read texts, but they can get identification and telephone numbers, which will give them a list of everyone who was in the area during a given time period. Authorities can also get historical data, location data, and payment information from these techniques.
Scary? It is. We can always make use of the remaining payphones that are still around to get the cops off our backs. Got a quarter, anyone?
[via USA Today]