U.S. Marshal Service "dirtboxes" scooping up cellphone data nationwide
We're all familiar with the NSA's widespread surveillance of email, phone and other information sources. Now we can add to the list the U.S. Marshal Service, which is using Cessna aircraft fitted with so-called "dirtboxes" that mimic cell phone towers. The stated goal of the program? To track down bad guys, naturally. But the dragnet also scoops up data from thousands of innocent people, raising profound questions about its legality:
Within the Marshals Service, some have questioned the legality of such operations and the internal safeguards, these people said. They say scooping up of large volumes of information, even for a short period, may not be properly understood by judges who approve requests for the government to locate a suspect’s phone.
Some within the agency also question whether people scanning cellphone signals are doing enough to minimize intrusions into the phones of other citizens, and if there are effective procedures in place to safeguard the handling of that data.
It is unclear how closely the Justice Department oversees the program. “What is done on U.S. soil is completely legal,” said one person familiar with the program. “Whether it should be done is a separate question.”
Increasingly, the constitutional rights of average citizens are becomming collateral damage in the federal government's pursuit of criminals, terrorists, and anyone else it happens to consider a threat.