Government Fights for Use of Spy Tool That Spoofs Cell Towers

The government’s use of a secret spy tool was on trial on Thursday in a showdown between an accused identity thief and more than a dozen federal lawyers and law enforcement agents who were fighting to ensure that evidence obtained via a location-tracking tool would be admissible in court.
At issue is whether law enforcement agents invaded Daniel David Rigmaiden’s privacy in 2008 when they used a so-called stingray to track his location through a Verizon Wireless air card that he used to connect his computer to the internet. Also at issue is whether a warrant the government obtained from a judge covered the use of the stingray and whether the government made it sufficiently clear to the judge how the technology it planned to use worked.

Over the course of a three-hour hearing in the U.S. District Court in Arizona, Rigmaiden, 31, asserted that the warrant the government obtained only authorized Verizon Wireless to provide agents with data about the air card but did not authorize agents to use the invasive stingray device. He also asserted that Verizon Wireless “reprogrammed” his air card to make it interact with the FBI’s stingray, something that he says was outside the bounds of the judge’s order.

Rigmaiden and civil liberties groups who have filed amicus briefs in the case also maintain that the government failed its duty to disclose to the judge who issued the warrant that the device they planned to use not only collected data from the target of an investigation but from anyone else in the vicinity who was using an air card or other wireless communication device.

Linda Lye, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, told the judge on Thursday that this was the equivalent of rummaging through ten or twelve apartments to find the correct one where the defendant resided, something that would never be allowed under a normal warranted search.

By withholding information about the stingray from the judge and providing only “scant information” about the data they planned to collect, the FBI had “failed to live up to its duty of candor…. The government should have been clear about what information it wanted to obtain and what information it was going to obtain in using the technology,” she said.

The ACLU recently uncovered emails that show a pattern of agents routinely withholding information from judges about their use of stingrays in applying for warrants for electronic surveillance.

The Rigmaiden case is shining a spotlight on the secretive technology, generically known as a stingray or IMSI catcher, that allows law enforcement agents to spoof a legitimate cell tower in order to trick nearby mobile phones and other wireless communication devices into connecting to the stingray instead of a phone carrier’s tower.

When devices connect, stingrays can see and record their unique ID numbers and traffic data, as well as information that points to the device’s location. To prevent detection by suspects, the stingray is supposed to send the data along to a real tower so that traffic continues to flow.

By gathering the wireless device’s signal strength from various locations, authorities can pinpoint where the device is being used with much more precision than they can get through data obtained from a mobile network provider’s fixed tower location.

Although there are stingray devices that can capture and record the content of phone calls and text messages, the U.S. government has insisted in court documents for the Rigmaiden case that the stingray used in this case could only capture the equivalent of header information — such as the phone or account number assigned to the aircard as well as dialing, routing and address information involved in the communication. As such, the government has maintained that the device is the equivalent of devices designed to capture routing and header data on e-mail and other internet communications, and therefore does not require a search warrant.

The device, however, doesn’t just capture information related to a targeted phone. It captures data from “all wireless devices in the immediate area of the FBI device that subscribe to a particular provider” according to government documents -— including data of innocent people who are not the target of the investigation. FBI policy requires agents to then purge collateral data collected by the surveillance tool.
 
By Kim Zetter
Source and read more:

0 yorum: