Government’s Fake Cell Phone Towers Cause Woe: Device Can Spy On Your Location, Calls and Texts

The House Oversight Committee has serious concerns about the use of the Stingray device that acts as a fake cell phone tower. The device is currently being used by numerous government agencies. Their concerns were made public after their year-long probe into the use and expense of this technology. The devices can be used for targeting cell phones of unsuspecting citizens nationwide.

Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Jason Chaffetz, appeared on “Fox and Friends” Wednesday morning to express his concerns over government agencies using the Stingray device. At any given time, one of the several agencies can tap into one of the nationwide fake cell phone tower devices to pick up the location and other information on basically anyone without a warrant or any type of guidelines.

The list of agencies that have access to the fake cell phone tower device raises questions for the committee, said Chaffetz. He questioned why some of these agencies even need this technology, citing the IRS as one of the arms of the government using the Stingray device giving the committee cause for concern.

Boy With Old Fashion Listening Device
Things have changed since the 1960s when spying devices were big and bulky, demonstrated by this young boy. Today the Government can locate you via your cell phone. They can intercept your calls, texts and see your contacts by using a device about the size of a small suitcase that will pick up your cell phone ping. (AP Photo)

Many of the more than 400 cell-site simulators in use are called the Stingray, but there are other brand names they are sold under. This technology has cost the taxpayers close to $100 million. The devices that mimic cell towers are scattered throughout the nation, and in some areas, even the local and state law enforcement have access to their use. The House Committee is recommending designing legislation around the use of these machines, which would include needing a warrant before the tracking of the cell phone begins in most cases. According to The Washington Times, the device can be “used to zero in covertly on the locations of cellphones.”

The agencies that have access to these cell phone interception devices include the DEA, FBI, IRS Criminal Investigations Division, U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Secret Service, Treasury Inspector General, Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and many state and local law enforcement agencies.

While this technology is called a fake cell phone tower, it is really nothing more than a small suitcase-size device that doesn’t look much like a piece of modern technology, but looks are deceiving in this case. The device mimics a cell phone tower, so it can pick up your phone’s signal. Your cell phone gives off pings that are picked up by the nearest towers when you make a call.

This fake cell phone tower device picks up those pings just like a regular tower would. The Stingray has the ability to pinpoint your location once it picks up that ping from the cell phone. Along with tagging your location, it can also extract other information from your phone, including contacts, phone numbers, outgoing phone calls, and text messages, according to Sputniknews.

It is not necessarily a stationary device, and they are put in vehicles by local and state law enforcement. Then they will drive through neighborhoods looking to pick up a ping from their suspect’s cell phone. While they embark on this search, they are picking up information on other people’s cell phones who are passing by or who live in the neighborhood. If your cell phone is tracked, you would not have any idea that this was going on.

Man Seen In Rear View Mirror
The Stingray Technology is no bigger than a suitcase so it can be loaded in a vehicle and used by law enforcement as they troll a neighborhood looking for a suspect's cell phone. While doing this they can pick up on anyone's cell phone who happens to be in the area. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Basically, the Stingray device intercepts your cell phone signal and extracts any information needed via that signal. One of the many concerns expressed by Chaffetz this morning on “Fox and Friends,” is it wouldn’t take much for the criminal element to get their hands on this device, which would open an entirely new can of worms for the use of the Stingray.

According to The Washington Times, the report does not list the specific devices by name or the type of device each agency has access to. But these devices are pricey, with the government agencies listing their purchase price as $41,000 to $500,000.

Back in 2015, the Justice Department and Homeland Security put a policy into place that in most cases a warrant needs to be obtained before using the device, but there’s no standard policy for the device when used by local authorities. For this reason, the committee suggests that Congress needs to “establish a legal framework” that basically “governs government agencies, commercial entities, and private citizens’ access” to this data derived from the cell phone intercepting device.

[Featured Image by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office/ AP Images]