IMSI-Catchers: Violating the 4th Amendment and Your Smart-Phone

The Washington Times now reports on the ubiquity of cell-phone signal interceptors used to hone in on and listen to your calls.

According to the article, some 400 devices are deployed and active throughout the U.S. to aid the objectives of various departments including the U.S. Marshalls Service, BATFE, ICE, and the IRS.

While the type of devices used have not been identified, at least by this article, one can be sure that IMSI Catchers are the predominant inventory used to eavesdrop on Americans.

IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) Catchers mimic and amplify the signals of a typical base station used for the transmission of electronic communications via cell-phone, this takes advantage of phone preference for base stations with the strongest signal. In doing so, the phone receiving a call in vicinity of the IMSI Catcher will utilize the IMSI in relay to other cell-towers down the route to the sender.

This “catching” of the device allows for configuration of the call to easily broken encryption so the details of the call can be siphoned for surveillance purposes.

According to Bloomberg, the “Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union have warned that police are routinely misleading judges about the scope of IMSI catchers’ powers.”

And indeed the EFF has weighed in on this issue, citing the historical rationale for the provision of the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

They enunciate that IMSI Catchers, “which could potentially be beamed into all the houses in one neighborhood looking for a particular signal—is the digital version of the pre-Revolutionary war practice of British soldiers going door-to-door, searching Americans’ homes without rationale or suspicion, let alone judicial approval. The Fourth Amendment was enacted to prevent these general fishing expeditions. As the Supreme Court has explained, a warrant requires probable cause for all places searched, and is supposed to detail the scope of the search to ensure ‘nothing is left to the discretion of the officer executing the warrant’.”

Apparently the legislative and judicial offices that impact the use of these systems are having difficulty in keeping up with their implementation and advancements. As Bloomberg reported, a Maryland delegate David Moon has opined that the law, “doesn’t seem to keep up with the technology.” 

It seems that not enough Americans care about the breeches being made on a daily basis to their constitutional freedoms. The law isn’t keeping up because the citizenry have not pushed for revisions, either out of ignorance of how they are being impacted, or a lackadaisical attitude in general.

As with any technology that fulfills a necessitated function, these devices will continue to spread until legal oversight imposes new restrictions. Until then, we must wonder if the statesman, much affiliated with the Trilateral Commission (co-founder), Zbigniew Brzezinski was portending the modern situation when he wrote about “America in the Technetronic Age” stating:

“[T]he capacity to assert social and political control over the individual will vastly increase. As I have already noted, it will soon be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and to maintain up-to-date, complete files, containing even most personal information about the health or personal behaviour of the citizen, in addition to more customary data. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities.”

I’d say he was spot on.

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