WASHINGTON, U.S. – In a shocking discovery, surveillance devices called Stingrays have been discovered in various parts of Washington D.C. and the Department of Homeland Security has now revealed details of their findings.
While not revealing the exact number of surveillance devices found in Washington, the Homeland Security department confirmed the finding and explained that Stingrays are used to track and intercept smartphone communications by posing as legitimate cell tower.
Officials said that the devices are suspected to be in operation across Washington D.C., leading to fears that foreign governments are using them to snoop on the capitol.
In a March 26 response to Democratic senator Ron Wyden, Homeland Security revealed that its National Protection and Programs Directorate [NPPD] had spotted “anomalous activity…that appears to be consistent with International Mobile Subscriber Identity [IMSI] catchers (formal name for the technology).”
Further, the NPPD reportedly acknowledged that the “malicious use of IMSI catchers is a real and growing risk” and said use by foreign spies would be unlawful.
The NPPD further said that it has the potential to threaten the security of communications and personal privacy of U.S. citizens.
A report in the Associated Press, which first reported on the DHS letter, cited a DHS official who said that the alleged devices were found in a 2017 audit.
According to the report, the surveillance equipment is used by law enforcement to track and monitor the phone calls of targets by duping the handset into believing it is connected to an authorized cell tower.
The EFF explained that the cell-site simulators, which is another name for the technology, are now used by the FBI, DEA, NSA, Secret Service and ICE, as well as the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and the National Guard.
According to a 2015 report in The Intercept, a marketing brochure noted that one Stingray device in valued at $134,950.
Further, in 2014, a team of mobile security analysts raised concerns that cell phone tracking equipment was in place across sensitive areas in Washington D.C.
Experts had then suggested that foreign governments could be spying on the city, which houses political and law enforcement entities, including the FBI and the White House.
Meanwhile, on November 17, last year, Wyden’s letter stated that it is a suggestion the senator had deemed alarming.
According to the letter, if found, he said such activity would “pose a significant threat to our country’s national and economic security.”
According to the Democratic official, despite the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) establishing a task force to investigate the experts' claims, it had issued no further guidelines on the issue of IMSI cell-catcher surveillance.
In his response to Wyden, Homeland Security official Christopher Krebs said that his agency does not currently have the ability to locate IMSI devices.
He wrote in his response, “NPPD is not aware of any current DHS technical capability to detect IMSI catchers. To support such a capability, DHS would require funding to procure, deploy, operate and maintain the capability, which includes the costs of hardware, software and labor.”
He added further that the findings had always been shared with federal partners and that work with the FCC remains ongoing.
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