Meet the machines that steal your phone’s data
Courtesy Ryan Gallagher, ArsTechnica
The National Security Agency’s spying tactics are being intensely scrutinized following the recent leaks of secret documents. However, the NSA isn’t the only US government agency using controversial surveillance methods.
Monitoring citizens’ cell phones without their knowledge is a booming business. From Arizona to California, Florida to Texas, state and federal authorities have been quietly investing millions of dollars acquiring clandestine mobile phone surveillance equipment in the past decade.
Earlier this year, a covert tool called the “Stingray” that can gather data from hundreds of phones over targeted areas attracted international attention. Rights groups alleged that its use could be unlawful. But the same company that exclusively manufacturers the Stingray—Florida-based Harris Corporation—has for years been selling government agencies an entire range of secretive mobile phone surveillance technologies from a catalogue that it conceals from the public on national security grounds.
Details about the devices are not disclosed on the Harris website, and marketing materials come with a warning that anyone distributing them outside law enforcement agencies or telecom firms could be committing a crime punishable by up to five years in jail.
These little-known cousins of the Stingray cannot only track movements—they can also perform denial-of-service attacks on phones and intercept conversations. Since 2004, Harris has earned more than $40 million from spy technology contracts with city, state, and federal authorities in the US, according to procurement records.
In an effort to inform the debate around controversial covert government tactics, Ars has compiled a list of this equipment by scrutinizing publicly available purchasing contracts published on government websites and marketing materials obtained through equipment resellers. Disclosed, in some cases for the first time, are photographs of the Harris spy tools, their cost, names, capabilities, and the agencies known to have purchased them.
What follows is the most comprehensive picture to date of the mobile phone surveillance technology that has been deployed in the US over the past decade.