The Department of Justice isn’t the only agency involved in spying on Americans’ cell phones. It was recently revealed that the Central Intelligence Agency has a hand in it also, and it is raising some concerns about domestic spying.
The Wall Street Journal, who originally reported the “stingray” technology last year, reported last week that the CIA helped U.S. Marshals Service – a division of the Justice Department — develop technology that allows them to use airplanes to allow agents to gather information for thousands of cell phones at the time.
The program uses specially equipped planes that fly out of five cities and cover most of the U.S. population. The devices used, called “dirtboxes” by agents, mimic a cell phone tower and trick cell phones into giving up their registration and location information to federal agents.
The technology is currently used to track criminal and terror suspects, as well as overseas intelligence targets. But the system also identifies thousands of cell phones belonging to people who are not related to the search, and can interfere with their phone’s ability to make calls for a short time.
According to The Hill, the collaboration between the CIA and Justice Department began about 10 years ago, and the two agencies have worked together to develop the technology. Over the years, the CIA has provided the Marshals Service with free cell tower simulators, updating them as new versions become available.
Civil-liberties groups are concerned with the practice, and have compared the technique to a “digital dragnet” of innocent Americans’ phones.
An American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyer, Nathan Wessler, told Newsweek that the revelation of that the CIA was involved didn’t come as a shock, citing other reports of cooperation between government agencies on stingray technology.
“We know…that in some states there are agreements between the state police and local agencies to share their technology,” he said. “We’ve seen the Marshals Service loaning stingray devices to local police. We’ve seen the FBI requiring local police departments to sign an agreement with the FBI whenever they want to buy their own stingray devices.”
Still, he questioned the legality of the program.
“What legal authority are they using? Do they get warrants? If not, why? What are they doing to protect bystanders’ privacy?”
Wessler also said that he was surprised at the scope of the program.
“It raises the question of whether the CIA was effectively using U.S. citizens as guinea pigs to develop spy gear that was really developed for use overseas in war zones or espionage situations.”
In a related Inquisitr report, Wikipedia and the ACLU have expressed concerns over the NSA spying on internet users, and Wikipedia filed suit against the agency last week.
[Image via Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]