Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has made startling new revelations about CSS or cell-site stimulators. These cell surveillance devices, better known as Stingray, are used to disrupt communications of cell phones, mostly of criminals and lawbreakers. However, Sen. Wyden asserts that the devices may impact other phones and potentially makes contacting emergency services like 911 difficult for citizens.
In a letter [PDF] sent to the U.S Department of Justice by Sen. Wyden, it is claimed that the CSS devices are capable of obstructing all kinds of communication. So, when these are used to carry out real-time surveillance on particular phones, it is quite possible that these interfere with 911 calls.
Throughout the time the surveillance is ongoing, the devices disrupt the communication of the targeted phones, including text messages and phone calls. This would lead to jamming of other mobile phones in the near vicinity, which would make it difficult for people to contact emergency services. People may experience temporary service disruption if a surveillance operation is being conducted.
Stingray maker Harris Corps although claimed to have developed a feature that prevents this interference with emergency calls to 911, Wyden states that this feature hasn’t yet tested or implemented. According to the requirements of the FCC’s certification process, any such feature has to be independently tested before being implemented. Sen. Wyden claims that the testing is yet to be done. Moreover, officials haven’t yet confirmed whether the feature can detect and allow 911 calls made by the deaf and speech disabled citizens who make emergency calls using Real-Time Text technology.
It is worth noting that Stingrays are quite commonly used by the law enforcement for many years, but even today the public doesn’t know much about how these devices work. The only thing that’s known is that these are used all across the US and can mimic cell towers to trick cell phones into contacting the device. This helps the police in identifying the real-time location of the targeted individual. But, the issue is that it intercepts all the cell phones that come into the range of the device.
The rights group EFF has suggested that this kind of threat to public privacy and security can only be thwarted if the multi-layer security of mobile communications infrastructure is ensured.
“All companies involved in mobile communications from the network layer [cell carriers] to the hardware layer (chip and networking device makers], to the software layer [tech giants] need to work together to ensure that our cellular infrastructure is safe, secure, and private from attacks by spies, criminals, and rogue law enforcement,” EFF states.
Sen. Wyden has urged the DOJ to ensure adoption of improved accountability practices for law enforcement specifically in relation to the use of Stingray.