Cell Phone Tracking Surveillance Systems Hit the Dictator Market

Tuesday, August 26, 2014
(graphic: crimethinc.com)

Dictators around the world can now exploit a fundamental feature of cell phones, leaving individuals at risk of having their whereabouts monitored wherever they go.


Several companies have developed systems that tap into cell providers’ databases and use that information to match a mobile phone signal to the tower it’s accessing. These systems are being marketed internationally, and spy agencies and others in just about any country can track a subject’s movements anywhere in the world.


The Washington Post reports that exploiting mobile phone systems has long been a practice of the U.S. National Security Agency. But, now, “these new systems allow less technically advanced governments to track people in any nation—including the United States—with relative ease and precision.” The systems can find a cell phone user’s location within a few blocks in a city, and a few miles in rural areas.


“Any tin-pot dictator with enough money to buy the system could spy on people anywhere in the world,” Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International, a British activist group opposed to surveillance technology, told the Post. “This is a huge problem.”


The newspaper was unable to determine which governments have acquired tracking systems created and sold by businesses like New York-based Verint. “But one industry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share sensitive trade information, said that dozens of countries have bought or leased such technology in recent years,” The Post’s Craig Timberg reported.


It’s not only governments who can access these systems. Security experts say hackers and criminal organizations could also avail themselves of this technology. “I’m worried about foreign governments, and I’m even more worried about non-governments,” Jon Peha, a Carnegie Mellon engineering professor and former White House scientific adviser and chief technologist for the FCC, told The Post. “Which is not to say I’d be happy about the NSA using this method to collect location data. But better them than the Iranians.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

For Sale: Systems That Can Secretly Track Where Cellphone Users Go around the Globe (by Craig Timberg, Washington Post)

Not Just the NSA: Surveillance Company Selling System to Spy on Mobile Phones Worldwide (by Matthew Rice, Privacy International)

The Surveillance Industry Index: An Introduction (by Matthew Rice, Privacy International)

NSA Can Track Every Cell Phone in the World, Collects 5 Billion Records per Day (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


Leave a comment