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Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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U.S. Uses Secret Aircraft to Track Cellphones

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The U.S. Department of Justice are using small aircraft carriers - which mimic cellphone towers - to intercept and record user information.

It looks like the U.S. government has more than one way to acquire cellphone data from unsuspecting citizens, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The report details small fake aircrafts used by the U.S. Department of Justice in order to track criminals. The aircrafts have cellphone tower technology inside, mimicking the frequency of a normal tower to allow the government access to the cellphone.

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Apparently, the aircraft follows the criminal but picks up all sort of data from devices in the local area. In a crowded place, this could mean thousands of innocent bypassers have their information checked and saved by the autonomous aircraft.

This is yet another breach of privacy by the U.S. government. It bears the same "if you're innocent, you have nothing to fear" argument that the National Security Agency and other departments have used as a way to make mass surveillance look like a good solution.

The program has been active since 2007 and the U.S. Marshals Service's Technical Operations Group has conducted most of the flights. At least five airports harbor these aircraft, and reportedly cover most of the U.S. population.

Cellphone towers connect with a smartphone every few minutes, even without making a call. This allows the fake cellphone towers set up inside these aircraft - known as dirtboxes - to establish a connection with the smartphone and start intercepting all transmissions.

According to people familiar with the matter, the dirtbox can remove information of no value, but keep information on criminals. Previously, governments have had to go through less secretive routes, requiring compliance with the wireless companies, but not any more.

This does bring into question why Verizon Wireless and AT&T had to give full access over to the NSA, if another government department already had information on almost every citizen in the country.

The U.S. Department of Justice has not confirmed or denied the existence of such a device. Other government agencies were not available for immediate comment.

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