DOJ Defends Legality Of Cellphone Snooping ‘Dirtbox’ Equipped Spy Planes

Phew, we can all breathe a sigh a relief that the scooping up of our sensitive mobile phone data -- things like text messages, call records, browsing history, pictures, contact, and more -- is completely legal, or so the government says. Doesn't that make you make feel much better about the U.S. Marshal Service's use of spy planes to harvest cellphone information on a mass scale?

No? Well perhaps you'll rest easier at night knowing that the Department of Justice insists that the Marshal Service doesn't maintain a database of cellphone data belonging to everyday, law abiding citizens as part of a program that it won't even acknowledge exists. Surely that should give you warm fuzzies, right?

Still no? Tough crowd. What if we told you that the Federal Communications Commission is clueless to the existence of the program that the DoJ won't admit exists?

"We were not aware of this activity," Kim Hart, a spokeswoman for the FCC, told FoxNews.

Image Source: Flickr (Bill Larkins)

At issue here is a recent report that the Marshals Service deploys planes equipped with "dirtboxes," which are little devices that send out cellular signals just as cell phone towers do. However, dirtboxes trick phones into thinking their signal is stronger and closer, ensuring that all phones in the area connect to the device. Once they do, these dirtboxes are able to extract all kinds of data from the phones that are connected to them.

The bigger problem here is that it's being used on a mass scale. Though the government might be targeting a specific individual, the planes fly over densely populated areas and can extract data from tens of thousands of phones per flight. In theory, innocent people are 'let go' from the signal, but what the government ends up doing with the data it already collected is a big question mark.

But hey, at least it's legal.