US DOJ accused of stealing cellphone data via "dirtyboxes"

A troubling new report suggest the Department of Justice has been engaging in a practice that gave them data from your smartphone, but it's not what you might think. Rather than wiretaps and hacking, the DOJ is instead accused of flying overhead with a device that spoofed a signal tower your carrier would have. In fooling your phone into thinking it was simply searching for a signal, the DOJ was pinching the data from it. The reason given? The never-ending hunt for criminals.

This program is said to be operated out of the US MArshals Service program, which operates a fleet of Cesna aircraft out of five airports across the country, covering a majority of the population. Though the sources didn't say how frequent these flyovers took place, they did say it was occurring on a "regular basis".

Your cellular phone — smartphone or otherwise — is programmed to latch onto the strongest signal it can. That strong signal is emitted from a cellular tower or antennae, which your smartphone "pings" from.

Planes carrying "dirtyboxes" fool your device into thinking they are a tower; a tower with a strong signal. From there, the DOJ is said to cast a net and pull all info possible.

The aim, of course, is to keep a watchful gaze on criminals the DOJ might be keeping an eye on, or find someone they want to apprehend. These tactics, of course, are going to draw the ire of many.

The reason may be a swift adjudication of the DOJ's desire to find people they're looking for. This "dirtybox" program sidesteps carriers. Typically, when law enforcement wants info on a person, they submit a request to the carrier for information on that person's activity. By flying overhead and spoofing a tower, they grab the information themselves.

The DOJ declined to comment on the revelation, but one person familiar with the matter summed it up nicely, saying "What is done on U.S. soil is completely legal. Whether it should be done is a separate question."

Source: The Wall Street Journal