The US Department of Justice is reportedly using aircraft deployed with specialised electronic equipment to mimic cellphone towers and scoop up phone location and other data from users on the ground.
The allegations, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, suggest that the US Marshals Service, which is an agency of the Department of Justice, has been flying Cessna aircraft outfitted with devices that mimic cell towers for seven years, collecting thousands of unique IDs and vast amounts of location data.
According to the WSJ report, the Marshals Service planes operate from at least five metropolitan airports giving them enough range to cover most of the US population.
Grabbing data using the cell tower mimicking planes could allow the Marshals Service and other agencies to avoid having to seek records from phone companies, which can require a court order.
The legality of the previously undisclosed programme is not clear. The report says the Justice Department has modified the equipment used on the planes to prevent it from interfering with emergency calls.
A Department of Justice official, speaking anonymously to the Guardian, wouldn’t confirm the existence of the programme but said the organization would have sought court approval before deploying such equipment.
Almost 18 months after the revelations arising from the leaks by Edward Snowden, the suggestion of yet another secret programme snooping on American citizens is likely to kick the controversy into high gear again.
➤ Americans’ Cellphones Targeted In Secret U.S Spy Program [Wall Street Journal]
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