The Justice Department is scooping up data from thousands of mobile phones through devices deployed on airplanes that mimic cellphone towers, a high-tech hunt for criminal suspects that is snagging a large number of innocent Americans, according to people familiar with the operations.Here's how it works.
The U.S. Marshals Service program, which became fully functional around 2007, operates Cessna aircraft from at least five metropolitan-area airports, with a flying range covering most of the U.S. population, according to people familiar with the program.
They basically ping every phone in range as they fly over the city, and use triangulation to find the location of each phone. They say they "let go" of the info except on the phones they are actively searching for, but that's BS. The machine HAS TO KEEP A RECORD of every ping, because that's how it works. They may in fact flush the memory after every flight, but I have very little confidence that's what's being done. We'd have to be crazy to believe that, given the NSA and the license plate reading programs etc.
Cellphones are programmed to connect automatically to the strongest cell tower signal. The device being used by the U.S. Marshals Service identifies itself as having the closest, strongest signal, even though it doesn't, and forces all the phones that can detect its signal to send in their unique registration information.
Even having encryption on a phone, such as the kind included on Apple Inc. 's iPhone 6, doesn't prevent this process.
The technology is aimed at locating cellphones linked to individuals under investigation by the government, including fugitives and drug dealers, but it collects information on cellphones belonging to people who aren't criminal suspects, these people said. They said the device determines which phones belong to suspects and "lets go" of the non-suspect phones.