New documents reveal that the several federal agencies have been operating surveillance flights over the United States since at least 2009.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently received new records related to the U.S. Marshals aerial surveillance program. The EFF filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Justice shortly after The Wall Street Journal revealed a cell-phone monitoring program operated by the U.S. Marshals Service. The program involved the Marshals using Cessna planes mounted with cell site simulators, also known as “Stingrays” or “dirtboxes”.
The EFF describes the Stingray as “a brand name of an IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) Catcher targeted and sold to law enforcement. A Stingray works by masquerading as a cellphone tower– to which your mobile phone sends signals to every 7 to 15 seconds whether you are on a call or not– and tricks your phone into connecting to it.”
The device that is used for the Marshals aerial surveillance program is made by Digital Receiver Technology (DRT), which is where it gets the name “dirt box.” The dirt boxes are supposed to be used for criminal investigations, but the EFF and the American Civil Liberties Union say the devices can collect data from tens of thousands of innocent people on each flight.
The documents obtained by the EFF come from the U.S. Marshals, FBI, CIA, and the DOJ’s Criminal Division. Most of the information released is heavily redacted but there are some new details on how these programs are being operated.