|A screenshot of Datong’s official website (Credit: Datong UK)|
Madison Ruppert, Contributing Writer
Governments around the world are increasingly taking control of civilian communications – especially cellular telephone networks – usually for nefarious purposes.
We have seen this occur in the Middle East on multiple occasions during the so-called Arab Spring, and now these control systems are being implemented in full force in the West as well.
This is not only dangerous because having government creep into the private lives of citizens usually turns out poorly, but because this type of technology enables horrific atrocities.
One type of system is produced by Datong in the United Kingdom which has already been purchased by the largest police force in all of Britain, the London Metropolitan Police.
The London Police paid $230,000 for so called “ICT hardware” in 2008 and 2009 which creates a fake cellular phone network in order to not only intercept the communications and unique identification numbers from phones, but also to remotely turn off telephones.
This incredibly dangerous technology that seems like something out of a spy thriller is highly portable and is about the size of a suitcase. This means that at a protest in which a brutal government crackdown is about to occur, all that the police would need to do is turn on their suitcase device and suddenly no one is able to record the incident on their phone or call for help.
The device can intercept SMS (text) messages, telephone calls, and even the unique IMSI and IMEI identifiers which would then allow police to track the telephone user’s movements in real time, which totally bypasses the need to request location data from the carrier itself as is normally required, according to Wired’s Threat Level.
The device can also completely prevent outbound communications from reaching a cell tower “for crowd control during demonstrations and riots where participants use phones to organize.”
At least you have to give them some credit for being upfront about how this device can – and likely will – be used to stifle dissent and break up protests, although it is usually promoted as a tool to prevent insurgents from detonating bombs via cell phone.
The technology can also be set up in a vehicle in order to track individuals who are on the move.
It is unclear whether this technology has already been used by the London Metropolitan Police and they refused to provide details to The Guardian about where and when it had been used.
Datong has been awarded over $1.6 million in contracts with the United States Secret Service, Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and other agencies between the years of 2004 and 2009 according to Threat Level.
Then, in February of 2010, Datong was awarded another $1.2 million contract to deliver tracking and location technology to the American “defense” industry.
I say the “defense” industry because, as I have made clear in previous posts, the “defense” industry and the “national security” industries are nothing more than a sham to support the war profiteering racket that plagues America.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Secret Service, George Ogilvie, confirmed to CNET that they have indeed “done business with Datong in the past” but he refused to comment on if they were still doing business with Datong or what technology was acquired from Datong.
I find this to be somewhat insulting given the fact that they are spending my money and the money of other American taxpayers while refusing to tell us where and why it is being spent.
A staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a commendable non-profit organization that crusades to protect privacy rights and civil liberties in the digital world, Jennifer Lynch, made it clear why this technology is dangerous, “The problem with this kind of technology is that it means that the police and law enforcement do not have to go through a cell phone provider to gain access to information that can be obtained via someone’s cell phone”.
That means they don’t even have to go through the already ludicrously lax procedures to acquire the information from service providers in the post-PATRIOT Act America.
Lynch continued, “The law enforcement agency controls access to the interception of the communication data.”
In today’s America phone companies are usually quick to hand over private subscriber information, along with companies like Google, but at least the fact that law enforcement has to ask the companies provides some minimal impediment to warrantless wiretapping and surveillance in violation of our rights.
Somewhat disturbingly, Lynch told CNET that the EFF was not familiar with Datong’s technologies and they are not aware of what U.S. agencies employ it.
The fact that such radically dangerous technology can fly under the radar is somewhat unsettling.
However, in 2008 it surfaced that the FBI was using quite similar technology known as “Triggerfish” which was also capable of mimicking a legitimate cell phone tower so users unwittingly handed over identifying information and location data.
Yet Triggerfish’s capability was significantly less than Datong’s in that Datong’s technology can intercept a plethora of data including phone calls, e-mails, text messages, and all other data being sent by the phone.
The CNET article comes to a quite unsettling conclusion, “it doesn’t look like there is much an individual can do–other than turn off his or her phon[e]–to avoid being tracked.”
Tragically, even that will not keep you from being tracked in today’s invisible surveillance state.