A recent report issued by the Wall Street Journal sheds light on another potentially invasive practice within the United States for collecting mobile data. While the U.S. Department of Justice has neither confirmed nor denied these statements of responsibility so far, the means of operation seem to be fairly certain.
Smaller planes called Cessnas, fly over an area where a target’s mobile device is while carrying what is called a ‘dirtbox.’ This ‘dirtbox’ mimics the function of cellular service towers which appear the same as a cell tower to mobile devices. This triggers any mobile electronic devices operating on cellular networks to begin exchanging data with the ‘dirtbox’ just as it would normally with a cell tower.
The Wall Street Journal draws particular attention to the fact that while the report indicates this device being used to track individuals, that all mobile devices within range with respond to the ‘dirtbox’ and begin exchanging data. In short, if you are in the vicinity of a target of such an operation, your phone’s data will be captured as well.
“Within the Justice Department’s failure to either confirm or deny the accusations of such an operation, they did state that [the dirtbox] operates within the parameters of Federal law”
The Wall Street Journal describes their source for this information as “sources familiar with the program.” Their source also confirmed to them that these “dirtbox” carrying Cessnas were flying from at least 5 U.S. airports.
Within the Justice Department’s failure to either confirm or deny the accusations of such an operation, they did state that it operates within the parameters of Federal law.
The ‘dirtbox’ falls into a category of technology called International Mobile Subscriber Catchers (IMSCs) which are unified categorically through their collection of identification data that is utilized by carrier network to uniquely identify cellular devices. StingRay devices which have recently been revealed to have been used extensively by domestic police departments, operate in a similar manner.
These devices are capable of locating a targeted individual to within 10 feet, as well as identifying their location within a building. In addition to leaching personal data from cellular devices, the ‘dirtbox’ can also jam wireless signals.