Who Is Running Phony Cell Phone Towers Around The Country?

An illustration picture shows the logo of the U.S. National Security Agency on the display of an iPhone in Berlin

On August 29, Popular Science published a map of interceptor towers, surveillance devices that masquerade as cell phone towers to intercept voice and data transmissions from every cell user in an area. 19 of the interceptors were found in the United States in August, and two more popped up on September 5: one in Garden City, NY and another in downtown Las Vegas. They were spotted by owners of the approximately $3,500 CryptoPhone 500 device, an ultra-high-end phone that allows ordinary, if well-heeled, citizens to see surveillance invisible to standard phones.

Though the F.B.I. has been using a basic mobile phone interceptor that tracks phone location, known colloquially by the brand name of “Stingray” since at least 2008, federal, state, and local officials have tried to say as little as possible about use of the technology, even in court proceedings. This angers civil libertarians such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who view the use of interceptors without a warrant as an unlawful search. The government’s silence has helped generate an information vacuum filled by conspiracy theory: one fringe news site recently claimed that the interceptors are a source of “smart grid mind control” made possible by “voice to skull technology.”

Nathan Wessler, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, says that while it’s “impossible” for him to definitively determine ownership of any given interceptor, he can offer some informed speculation.

“Two in Florida,” he says, after taking a look at the 19 interceptors detected around the U.S. in August. “We know that a lot of Florida law enforcement agencies use these devices. A couple of sites right on the U.S.-Mexico border — we know that U.S. Customs and Immigration uses these devices. A couple of pings in Arizona, California, one location near Seattle — we know..

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