Human Rights

Private Companies Hawking Systems to Find You Anywhere in the World Through Your Cellphone

A new report reveals sophisticated surveillance tools sold to governments—and others—around the globe.
There are, at least on paper, limits to surveillance by U.S. spy agencies and law enforcement. And, at least in theory, some cell phone carriers may occasionally say no to government requests forinformation about their customers.
But, according to a new Washington Post article by technology reporter Craig Timberg, these small obstacles to global surveillance are neatly bypassed by private companies that market cellphone location-tracking systems to governments around the world. They can evade detection by carriers, and they fall in a legal gray area. While many countries have laws that protect their own citizens against secret spying, these laws don't apply to secret spying on people in other countries, the report notes. In their marketing materials the companies brag about their ability to hide the spying from both carriers and cell-phone users, or "targets." 
Timberg  explains that these tools work by secretly tapping into cellular networks, which chart customers' locations based on their proximity to cell phone towers. The information can place people within blocks, according to the Post. One company, Verint, boasts of their tools finding people in "Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, Congo, the United Arab Emirates, Zimbabwe and several other countries."
Secretly tracking the location of anyone, anywhere on Earth is not all, though. According to the Timberg, companies also suggest the use of IMSI catchers, or StingRays, which "use cellular signals collected directly from the air to intercept calls and Internet traffic, send fake texts, install spyware on a phone, and determine precise locations."


Tana Ganeva is a reporter covering criminal justice, drug policy and homelessness. Follow her on Twitter @TanaGaneva.

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