No one seriously believed it was just US law enforcement agencies using repurposed war gear to track cellphone users, did they?
An investigation by the British news channel Sky News claims to have found evidence of fake cellphone towers operating in London and elsewhere that acts similarly to devices known as IMSI catchers, the most famous of which is manufactured under the brand name StingRay.
The results of Sky News’ GDMK Cryptophone-enabled cell tower wardriving can be found in this file, which supposedly uncovered more than 20 cell tower imposters in London alone in a three-week period. We’ve still got the UK beat on nomenclature, though. IMSI catchers are pretty much always referred to as “stingrays” (actually a product name trademarked by manufacturer Harris Corporation). Due to the lack of official acknowledgement or FOA-ed documents, we’re stuck with the clunky “ICT hardware,” as produced by manufacturer Datong.*
*Time to crowdsource a better British nickname. We honestly can’t be using “ICT hardware” in the future when further details inevitably leak out. You’d think the Brits would already have this handled, considering the split development of the language (American/English) has necessitated a need for an English-to-English dictionary at this point.
Here’s what officials don’t have to say about the Sky News revelations, which follows on the heels of previous investigations by The Guardian and the Times of London. The only thing on record — outside of the inevitable refusal to confirm or deny — is this statement, which implies the public’s right to know what law enforcement is up to falls far, far behind law enforcement’s need to bust bad guys.
“We’re not going to talk about it,” Met official Bernard Hogan-Howe told Sky News when asked for comment. “The only people who benefit [from a comment] are the other side, and I see no reason in giving away that sort of thing.”
Of course. And then there’s this “reassurance,” which only states that whatever the police are doing with these devices, it’s certainly not as bad as the worst case scenarios envisioned by the most overactively-imaginative.
“If people imagine that we’ve got the resources to do as much intrusion as they worry about, I would reassure them that’s impossible,” Hogan-Howe added without providing any evidence to support his claim.
But that’s OK, because what we do know about IMSI catchers should be scary enough. They force phones to the “dumbest” connection — 2G — to better facilitate the interception of calls and texts. They indiscriminately hoover up all call data in the area and can often disrupt normal phone service. Their exisitence is routinely hidden from courts, judges and criminal defendants. And they’ve been deployed thousands of times by hundreds of law enforcement agencies without a warrant.
These are all reason the public should be made aware of the purchase and use of these devices. But because usage isn’t as “intrusive” as Hogan-Howe fails to specify it could be, British citizens are apparently supposed to believe everything is perfectly fine.