cell phones Intelwars Law Enforcement privacy Surveillance tracking

IMSI-Catchers from Canada

Gizmodo is reporting that Harris Corp. is no longer selling Stingray IMSI-catchers (and, presumably, its follow-on models Hailstorm and Crossbow) to local governments:

L3Harris Technologies, formerly known as the Harris Corporation, notified police agencies last year that it planned to discontinue sales of its surveillance boxes at the local level, according to government records. Additionally, the company would no longer offer access to software upgrades or replacement parts, effectively slapping an expiration date on boxes currently in use. Any advancements in cellular technology, such as the rollout of 5G networks in most major U.S. cities, would render them obsolete.

The article goes on to talk about replacement surveillance systems from the Canadian company Octasic.

Octasic’s Nyxcell V800 can target most modern phones while maintaining the ability to capture older GSM devices. Florida’s state police agency described the device, made for in-vehicle use, as capable of targeting eight frequency bands including GSM (2G), CDMA2000 (3G), and LTE (4G).


A 2018 patent assigned to Octasic claims that Nyxcell forces a connection with nearby mobile devices when its signal is stronger than the nearest legitimate cellular tower. Once connected, Nyxcell prompts devices to divulge information about its signal strength relative to nearby cell towers. These reported signal strengths (intra-frequency measurement reports) are then used to triangulate the position of a phone.

Octasic appears to lean heavily on the work of Indian engineers and scientists overseas. A self-published biography of the company notes that while the company is headquartered in Montreal, it has “R&D facilities in India,” as well as a “worldwide sales support network.” Nyxcell’s website, which is only a single page requesting contact information, does not mention Octasic by name. Gizmodo was, however, able to recover domain records identifying Octasic as the owner.

cell phones Encryption Intelwars Law Enforcement Police Smartphones

New Report on Police Decryption Capabilities

There is a new report on police decryption capabilities: specifically, mobile device forensic tools (MDFTs). Short summary: it’s not just the FBI that can do it.

This report documents the widespread adoption of MDFTs by law enforcement in the United States. Based on 110 public records requests to state and local law enforcement agencies across the country, our research documents more than 2,000 agencies that have purchased these tools, in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. We found that state and local law enforcement agencies have performed hundreds of thousands of cellphone extractions since 2015, often without a warrant. To our knowledge, this is the first time that such records have been widely disclosed.

Lots of details in the report. And in this news article:

At least 49 of the 50 largest U.S. police departments have the tools, according to the records, as do the police and sheriffs in small towns and counties across the country, including Buckeye, Ariz.; Shaker Heights, Ohio; and Walla Walla, Wash. And local law enforcement agencies that don’t have such tools can often send a locked phone to a state or federal crime lab that does.


The tools mostly come from Grayshift, an Atlanta company co-founded by a former Apple engineer, and Cellebrite, an Israeli unit of Japan’s Sun Corporation. Their flagship tools cost roughly $9,000 to $18,000, plus $3,500 to $15,000 in annual licensing fees, according to invoices obtained by Upturn.

Big Brother cell phone cell phones cellphone cellphones Commentary Intelwars Phone Phone Surveillance Phones Technology

Your Phone Is Spying On You, And Companies Are Generating Secret “Surveillance Scores” Based On That Information

Nothing that you do on your phone is private.  In this day and age, most of us have become extremely dependent on our phones, and most Americans never even realize that these extremely sophisticated little devices are gathering mountains of information on each one of us.  Your phone knows what you look like, it knows the sound of your voice, it knows where you have been, it knows where you have shopped, it knows your Internet searches and it knows what you like to do in your free time.  In fact, your phone literally knows thousands of things about you, and all of that information is bought and sold every single day without you knowing.  And as you will see below, there are lots of companies out there that use information collected from our phones to create secret “surveillance scores” that are used for a whole host of alarming purposes.

It is really important to understand that your phone is a surveillance device.  The reason why the advertisements on your phone seem so perfectly tailored for you is because of all the information that your phone has gathered on you previously.

To this day, many people are still amazed when they see an ad pop up for something that they were just talking with a friend about, but that doesn’t happen by accident.  The following comes from Fox News

Perhaps you’ve been talking to a friend about an island vacation, when suddenly deals for the Maldives or Hawaii pop up on your Facebook feed. Or you are talking to your co-worker about yard renovations when advertisements for lawnmowers litter your Twitter, or maybe you were talking about why you stopped drinking and a random sponsored article about the growing trend of “elective sobriety” is suddenly in front of your eyes.

Industry experts insist that our phones are not actively “eavesdropping” on us, but they do admit that our phones are “actually spying on us” in other ways…

“It’s easy to feel like our phone is spying on us. It is actually spying on us, but it is not eavesdropping,” Alex Hamerstone, Government, Risk and Compliance practice lead at information technology security firm, TrustedSec, told Fox News via email. “The reason why we see ads pop up that seem to be correlated to the exact thing we were just talking about is because technology and marketing companies gather extensive amounts of personal and behavioral data on us, but it’s not from eavesdropping — it’s from surfing the web, shopping, posting on social media, and other things people do online.”

Most Americans have come to accept targeted ads as a part of life, but what most people don’t realize is that the information our phones gather is being used for far more intrusive purposes.

“Surveillance scores” are being created, and these “surveillance scores” seem quite similar to the “social credit scores” that China has been compiling since 2014.

In China, if you do good things like paying your taxes or taking a parent to the doctor, your social credit score will go up.

But there are also lots of things that will cause your social credit score to go down…

It aims to punish for transgressions that can include membership in or support for the Falun Gong or Tibetan Buddhism, failure to pay debts, excessive video gaming, criticizing the government, late payments, failing to sweep the sidewalk in front of your store or house, smoking or playing loud music on trains, jaywalking, and other actions deemed illegal or unacceptable by the Chinese government.

And if your social credit score gets too low, the consequences can be quite dramatic

Punishments can be harsh, including bans on leaving the country, using public transportation, checking into hotels, hiring for high-visibility jobs, or acceptance of children to private schools. It can also result in slower internet connections and social stigmatization in the form of registration on a public blacklist.

Here in the United States, private companies are doing something very similar.  Information collected from our phones is being used to create secret “surveillance scores”, and selling those scores has become very big business.  The following comes from the Houston Chronicle

Operating in the shadows of the online marketplace, specialized tech companies you’ve likely never heard of are tapping vast troves of our personal data to generate secret “surveillance scores” – digital mug shots of millions of Americans – that supposedly predict our future behavior. The firms sell their scoring services to major businesses across the U.S. economy.

And just like China’s system, high scores come with rewards and low scores come with punishments.

For example, your scores can determine whether or not someone will rent a property to you, whether or not you will be hired for a job, and even how long you will have to wait for customer service

CoreLogic and TransUnion say that scores they peddle to landlords can predict whether a potential tenant will pay the rent on time, be able to “absorb rent increases,” or break a lease. Large employers use HireVue, a firm that generates an “employability” score about candidates by analyzing “tens of thousands of factors,” including a person’s facial expressions and voice intonations. Other employers use Cornerstone’s score, which considers where a job prospect lives and which web browser they use to judge how successful they will be at a job.

Brand-name retailers purchase “risk scores” from Retail Equation to help make judgments about whether consumers commit fraud when they return goods for refunds. Players in the gig economy use outside firms such as Sift to score consumers’ “overall trustworthiness.” Wireless customers predicted to be less profitable are sometimes forced to endure longer customer service hold times.

To me, all of this is extremely creepy.

Eventually, it may get to a point where you are basically a societal outcast if you are not willing to conform to a particular set of politically-correct standards, values and behaviors.

You may not get thrown in jail the moment you do something “unacceptable”, but your phone will be watching you every step of the way.

Each mistake that you make will be recorded by your phone, and that information will be stored and used against you for the rest of your life.

I know that all of this sounds very strange, but without a doubt we are living in very strange times.

My advice would be to only use your phone when necessary, but of course the vast majority of the population will never listen to such advice.

Most of us have become highly addicted to these marvelous little devices, and in the process we are helping the elite construct a system of surveillance and control that is unlike anything ever seen before in all of human history.

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Applying the Fourth Amendment’s Original Meaning to Cell Phones and Heat Sensors

How should the Fourth Amendment’s original meaning be applied to modern technology that was not in existence at the time of the Amendment’s enactment? Many commentators believe this type of question problematic to answer. As Justice Alito quipped some years ago at oral argument, “I think what Justice Scalia wants to know is what James Madison thought about video games.” But in the case of the Fourth Amendment, there is a disciplined way to engage in this inquiry. Here I discuss how the matter should work with respect to two recent cases—Riley v. California (the search of cell phones when a person is arrested) and Kyllo v. U.S. (the use of heat sensors to determine the temperature inside a home—as a means of discovering whether illegal pot is being grown there).

In a prior essay, I noted that the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has followed neither the text nor the original meaning of the Amendment. In Katz v. United States, the Court held that whether a government action constitutes a search depends on whether it interferes with a reasonable expectation of privacy of an individual. But the Amendment does not speak about privacy or define searches by reasonable expectations of privacy.

Instead, the Amendment simply speaks of searches, which had an ordinary meaning at the time of looking “over or through things.” And the covered searches were limited to searches of “persons, houses, papers, and effects.” So whether something is a search is not a matter of reasonableness, but of whether one of those four things is examined.

The text of the Amendment does make reasonableness relevant, but only to something that has already been classified as a search. It is unreasonable searches that are prohibited. And the reason that is referred to here is the reason of the common law. Thus, the Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches simply asks whether such searches were allowable under common law.

In cases where the existing common law did not provide a clear answer, as with new technology, courts must determine the content of the common law right by deciding the case as a common law judge at the time would have—by considering the existing precedents and values at the time.

Let me then apply this approach to Riley and Kyllo.

In Riley, the police arrested Riley and sought to search his cell phone without a warrant under the “search incident to an arrest” exception. Under this exception, the police are allowed to search evidence they uncover when making an arrest without having to get a warrant. While this doctrine would normally cover personal property on the arrested person, the Court held that the doctrine could not be used to search a cell phone. The Court reached this result by invoking modern nonoriginalist precedents and balancing the legitimate government interests with an individual’s privacy interests.

While the Supreme Court applied nonoriginalist precedents, what would an originalist analysis look like? First, it seems clear that the police are attempting to search of an “effect” (since the phone is movable personal property) and thus within the scope of the Fourth Amendment’s protection. The next question is whether the search is a reasonable one. Since the search incident to arrest exception to warrants was part of the common law, originalist analysis suggests that it accords with the Amendment’s original meaning. Searches pursuant to that common law doctrine appear to have been justified on the grounds that the Supreme Court mentioned in Riley—to prevent destruction of evidence and to protect against violence from the person arrested.

The question, then, is how a common law judge at the time would have answered the question whether search of a cell phone fell under the search incident to arrest exception. And while some people will regard this question as unanswerable, I do not. If the reason for the exception (preventing destruction of evidence and protection against violence from the person arrested) is accurate, and if the common law judge understood how cell phones work (which we must assume to answer the question correctly), then I believe there is a strong case that the common law judge would not have extended the search incident to arrest exception to cell phones. Put differently, a common law judge would have recognized that cell phones were quite different than other materials on the suspect’s person and therefore should be treated differently.

The reason is that the values underlying the earlier cases apply differently to cell phones. While preventing destruction of evidence and protecting against violence from the person arrested are important concerns as to traditional property on the person of the arrested individual, they are far less important as to a cell phone. Once the cell phone has been seized (but not searched), the possibility that it could cause harm to the police or that the evidence would be destroyed is quite low.

By contrast, while privacy interests are weakly implicated in the ordinary situation, since there is only a limited amount of information that can be gleaned from non-digital materials on a person, (even from a wallet), privacy interests are strongly implicated by the search of a cell phone, which has an enormous amount of information about a person, including possibly large collections of pictures, videos, text messages, bank information, emails, and personal files.

There is, of course, no certainty that judges at the time would have viewed the matter in this way. It requires us to ask how they would evaluate a type of technology that was completely unknown at the time. But there is little reason to believe that they would have evaluated these basic facts about cell phones any differently than modern judges. If the values identified were the basis of the search incident to arrest exception, as scholars assert, then this does not seem like a problematic judgment.

What is interesting here is that this analysis resembles the Supreme Court’s decision in Riley, even though that decision followed nonoriginalist precedent. This is not an isolated example. One of the things that I have learned over my years as an originalist scholar is that the original meaning of a provision is often closer to the nonoriginalist position than I would have imagined. There is no necessary connection here; it just happens more often than one might expect.

Now, let me turn to the other Supreme Court case, Kyllo v. U.S., where the police used a heat sensor, along with other information, to obtain a warrant. The question is whether aiming the infrared heat sensor at the outside walls of a home amounted to a search of the home. Justice Scalia wrote the opinion, but applied the nonoriginalist Katz reasonable expectations of privacy test. He concluded that individuals had a reasonable expectation of privacy against use of the heat sensors to obtain information from a house.

While Scalia applied a nonoriginalist test, what would the originalist analysis look like? The first question is whether this is a search of a house. If it is search, it is certainly of a house. But is it a search? Here the analysis is a little complicated but in the end seems to suggest there is a search. One possibility is that examining the outside walls of a house is a search because that is “examining” part of the house and that accords with the ordinary meaning of the term at the time. It might be argued, however, that this is not a search because the outside of the house is in public and simply looking at something in public is not a search. But even if one accepts this latter argument, one might still conclude that it is a search because the police are using special equipment to examine the outside of the house. Thus, what they are examining is not open to all people in the public.

The next question, then, is whether the search is unreasonable. One must ask how a common law judge at the time would have decided the case. Since thermal imaging was not employed at the time of the Constitution, one must engage in an independent analysis. Once again, the nonoriginalist arguments used by the majority and dissent seem quite helpful.

That the thermal imaging reveals information that is occurring inside the home seems to strongly indicate that it is an unreasonable search absent a warrant. If a common law judge would have placed strong emphasis on the importance of privacy within the home, which seems quite likely, that is a strong argument for the unreasonableness of the search. There is a moderately strong argument, however, on the other side. The thermal imaging only revealed very rudimentary information about what was occurring inside the house—information about the heat being emitted. While some judges might have used this fact to conclude that the thermal imaging is not unreasonable, my judgement is that it is more likely that a common law judge of the time would view the thermal imaging as being an unreasonable search, since it was an infringement on an area that was traditionally protected.

In the end, this analysis shows that a proper understanding of the Fourth Amendment can accommodate modern technology, even though that technology was not known at the time. The analysis does require a limited common law type reasoning, but that is what the original meaning requires.