Secret U.S. Spy Program Uses Fake Cell Towers on Planes to Collect Your Phone Data

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Men on street photographing with mobile phone, background is blured city
Photo: Adam Radosavljevic/Istockphoto

The U.S. Justice Department operates a secret spy program that uses fake cell towers placed on small airplanes to collect data from the cell phones of users it flies over, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal.  

The small devices, called “dirtboxes,” are embedded in planes and mimic cell-phone towers, triggering any cell phone within range to send its “unique registration information,” allowing it to collect thousands of people’s identifying information and location in one flight. The program is targeted at tracking and identifying the locations of criminals, though thousands of innocent people’s data is picked up in the process. Dirtboxes also allow law enforcement to bypass telecom companies when tracking down data about an individual’s cell phone location history. 

But that’s not all! According to the Journal:

The program is more sophisticated than anything previously understood about government use of such technology…

Newer versions of the technology can be programmed to do more than suck in data: They can also jam signals and retrieve data from a target phone such as texts or photos. It isn’t clear if this domestic program has ever used those features.

A Justice Department official who spoke with the Journal would not confirm or deny the existence of the surveillance program.

Hope whoever is sifting through this data enjoys my sexts!