Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Judge Releases Information about Police Use of Stingray Cell Phone Trackers (aclu.org)
251 points by wglb on June 4, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 99 comments

This is great news. Kudos to the ACLU. And I'm happy to say it came about as a result of a note I posted on Twitter in January:



Kudos to you, too!

Here's the link from declan's tweet:


"James L. Thomas appeals convictions and sentences for sexual battery and petit theft, contending that evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and article I, section 12 of the Florida Constitution, was introduced against him at trial. We reverse and remand for a new trial."

So, because the police wanted to keep their use of the Stingray secret, they entered the accused rapist's apartment without obtaining a warrant, which caused the evidence they gathered, including the victim's phone, to fall under the exclusionary rule. The defendant will get a new trial, and may go free and commit other crimes, because of the police's preference for secrecy over the rule of law.

You forgot the next step:

"Thereby helping, in some small way, to (further?) turn the public against the doctrine of Fruit of the Poisonous Tree."


Like freedom of speech, the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree principle matters most for cases and situations that look bad.

The only effective counter to the talk radio blow-hard shouting "he got off on a technicality again!!!" is to educate the public. Otherwise, we have just abandoned the principle that a defendant needs to be not just guilty but justly proven guilty to be punished.

Actually the people pushing the he got off on a technicality will be police sycophants, talk radio tends to drive for ratings but quite a few hosts across the country are not blind friends of the police, far from it. Warrant less searches are never looked upon favorably, let alone no knock warrants, and finally the war on drugs isn't the most supported topic.

what you do have though is a very organized group out there whose job is to support the actions of the police regardless of how distasteful some may fine it, they will vilify the victim and perpetrators of crime to distract from abuses of police power. This of course leads to political pressure and chest thumping from hard on crime (at any cost) candidates.

> Actually the people pushing the he got off on a technicality will be police sycophants, talk radio tends to drive for ratings but quite a few hosts across the country are not blind friends of the police, far from it. Warrant less searches are never looked upon favorably, let alone no knock warrants, and finally the war on drugs isn't the most supported topic.

I think these statements are out of touch with the viewpoints of the majority of the voting public, at least as it has been over the last couple of decades, although it's certainly trending in a different direction these days.

Let's take 2000 as a reference point, which isn't that long ago and is a pretty good time-frame to look at, accounting from the lag in public opinion to when those viewpoints are reflected in the legal system: http://www.people-press.org/2014/04/02/americas-new-drug-pol....

In 2001, 90% of the U.S. thought that drug abuse was either a "crisis" (27%) or a "serious problem" (63%). 45% of the country viewed the move away from mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes as a bad thing. 63% thought that even marijuana should be illegal. Note that these are polls of the overall public: actual voters skew older and more conservative. And these are about drug use generally. Taking out marijuana, which most people view as less serious, but isn't a major target of the drug war anyway, would show even greater public support.

Now, things are slowly trending in the other direction, but it's flatly incorrect to say that only police sycophants will view criminals "getting off on a technicality" as being a bigger problem than 4th amendment violations. Even today, 26% of those polled, and almost certainly a higher percentage of voters, think the government should focus more on prosecuting drug users. Not just dealers, but users! 32%, and again likely a higher percentage of actual voters, still see the move away from mandatory minimums for non-violent drug crimes as a bad thing.

Moreover, it's crucial to distinguish between growing support for marijuana legalization, and opposition to the drug war generally. Many people have a skewed perception that the drug war is about putting marijuana users in jail. Less than 1% of people jailed for a drug offense are there solely for marijuana possession (and many of those people pled down from more serious charges): http://www.crimeandconsequences.com/crimblog/2011/06/facts-o.... The vast majority of drug enforcement activity is directed at harder drugs. Because most people draw a major distinction between marijuana and "real drugs" it's misleading to say that widespread support for marijuana legalization indicates a major opposition to the drug war generally.

All you have to do is watch a modern police procedural to evaluate the validity of statements like "warrant less searches are never looked upon favorably." Watch through the first (and only) season of Almost Human. The whole show is a parade of 4th amendment violations, justified by the premise "but he's the bad guy!" Media companies don't put out shows that challenge or disturb the typical person's views about things. The fact that almost every police procedural portrays the 4th amendment as just something that just protects bad guys and allows them to get off on technicalities reflects the general sentiment of the public.

That is, of course, not to justify chipping away at the 4th, but rather to point out why it's so hard to defend. The 4th amendment almost never comes up in a context in which the police did a warrantless search and didn't find anything incriminating. It almost always comes up when the police found a huge stash of cocaine, or a cache of child porn, or boxes of illegal guns.

'In 2001, 90% of the U.S. thought that drug abuse was either a "crisis" (27%) or a "serious problem" (63%).'

Strictly speaking, one can believe that and (consistently) believe the drug war is an inappropriate response. Doubly so, since "abuse" was specified - surely some of those polled would consider any use "abuse" but equally surely not all. I don't know that such a view was common enough to change your conclusions, but it more or less approximates my own views at the time.

I think your [1] got clipped off the end.

Sorry, I originally had my 5th paragraph as a footnote.

There's also the opposite scenario, in some countries they would punish both parties and there is no exclusion rule, as I understand it.

Not the only counter, just one of them. Another effective counter is to point out that, since the public airwaves are public property and a limited resource, organizations can't be allowed to buy up the whole spectrum and fill the air with bullshit as they please.


The fairness doctrine is being pushed solely by those that want to muzzle free speech. They had no problems when the only source of news was the left wing 'mainstream' media and newspapers. But now that the news isn't being controlled by the liberal elite they cry foul.

Bullshit. And the fairness doctrine doesn't apply to e.g. newspapers, internet, cable television, or any other media that doesn't have a technical restriction that limits the number of participants in the given medium.

The fairness doctrine applies to e.g. open airwaves, and is about recognizing that when the government sells frequency spectrum to the highest bidder, it has a responsibility to regulate the artificial monopoly it just created.

And when the fuck was the news ever controlled by any liberal elite. Here's a helpful link: http://www.rushlimbaughforum.com/conservative-forums.html

I suggest you make an account there. You'll fit right in.

If you want to detect the presence of an IMSI catcher such as the Stingray system, you won't be able to do that on Android, iPhone or basically any phone out there you can buy today. What you need is a phone that has been hacked to run the osmocomBB firmware and baseband software:


You can then use the CatcherCatcher software from SRLabs who have been working on this GSM/mobile security stuff since forever:


First I heard about this:


What is the legal status of using something like CatcherCatcher? (in other words, could you get in trouble for using it in the same way that you can get in trouble in many places for having a radar detector?)

Only if CatcherCatcher is made explicitly illegal, like the legislature of Virginia and the city council of Washington D.C. have made radar detectors illegal. Those are the only two places (and military bases) that radar detectors are illegal for passenger cars in the United States.

I did not know that radar detectors were illegal on military bases, let alone in VA/DC. Thank you for the heads-up. :)

Does that mean this comment is incorrect? https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7844350

Checking the cell ID can be used to detect an IMSI catcher, but it requires knowing which cell IDs can be trusted. That requires some kind of cell ID whitelist and can be a pain to maintain / prone to false positives.

Notice however that CatcherCatcher does a lot more than just detecting IMSI catchers. It also detects when you receive a "silent text message". Law enforcement works with mobile network operators to continously send these text messages to a mobile device. The baseband in the device then wakes, communicates with the nearest cell and thereby reveals its proximate location, without ever notifying the application processor that anything of note has happened. This allows for tracking a persons movement around cells at pretty much zero cost and can be done from any point in the world, unlike the IMSI catcher that requires you to be close to the target for it to pickup on the fake network.

It's great news. I'm still stunned by the Florida case, also linked to in this page:


Can Federal Marshals really deputize state and local officers and retroactively seize their work product? Can these officers be involuntarily deputized?

It seems like simple theft of state records to me.

I'm not sure to what degree it was involuntary, but regardless, no, they don't stop being state records because the government handed him a title. I'm not a lawyer, but I'd be pretty shocked if the ACLU didn't win that one.

I'm curious about the regulatory side of this.

Did the FCC grant these police departments a license to transmit on frequencies assigned to cell companies? Did the cell companies in question allow the police to use their frequencies?

The FCC is usually quite particular about interference with cell phones. For example, it's illegal for prisons to run a cell phone jammer but they can coordinate with call companies to run a fancy repeater that MITMs calls in the area and only allows authorized handsets.

The FCC is clearly aware of what's going on and the FOIA denial suggests that at least someone somewhere has been authorized to use them: http://files.cloudprivacy.net/FOIA/FCC/fcc-stingray-reply.pd...

The attached letters from the municipalities of Houston, Anne Arundel County, etc... indicate -- to me, at least -- that the authorization was granted. If they hadn't been, I don't see the FOIA officer bothering to attach them, but who knows.

Tasker for Android can help notify you if this is happening to you.

From the documentation I've gathered stingray devices appear to impersonate a cell tower with a stronger signal than the real one in order to get the device to associate. This means that stingray devices likely have their own cell ID so as not to trample the real one. If it didn't, it'd be a jammer not an interception device.

A simple PoC Tasker script (I wish it had an actual text-based language..): Add a new state, "Cell Near", Scan and pick the tower with highest signal. Invert the action. Tie it to a Notification task.

Whenever your phone associates with anything other than that tower you will get a notification. If you're good with Tasker it can be expanded to use GPS/Expected-tower pairs and alert you if something strange is going on.

Yes, someone should write an app for the general public. Maybe even see if the EFF can help promote it!

Hm, impressive. Nothing for iOs right? Android might not be as polished, but gets all the cool stuff.

> In this case, police used two versions of the stingray — one mounted on a police vehicle, and the other carried by hand. Police drove through the area using the vehicle-based device until they found the apartment complex in which the target phone was located, and then they walked around with the handheld device and stood “at every door and every window in that complex” until they figured out which apartment the phone was located in. In other words, police were lurking outside people’s windows and sending powerful electronic signals into their private homes in order to collect information from within.

Seriously ? And no police officer was ashamed of what they were doing during that whole time ?

What makes you think agents of the American state have any more shame than various other examples of thugs run amok throughout history?

There is still a wide-spread belief that the agents of the burgeoning US police state are 'just people like everyone else,' that are 'just trying to do their jobs.'

Isn't the real problem the extent of the damage, harm and evil that can be done by people who are 'just people like everyone else,' that are 'just trying to do their jobs.'

See Millgram experiment and any totalitarian state ever.

Note that I am not saying that the US is totalitarian but that the wide-spread belief that you mention can be completely valid and you can still be in trouble.

1) the milgram experiment was a case of academic fraud.

2) you'd think that on the 25th anniversary of the Tienanmen square massacre people would back off off the claims that the US is even a little bit totalitarian. 25 years ago this day, the Chinese state killed at least 1000 people and imprisoned, tortured and worse several tens of thousands more. Why ? Because a student union tried to create a second political party (and was succeeding). And no one cares today. The US has a long, long way to fall before getting to that level.

3) why is tracing cell phones such a problem ? How can anyone possibly believe anything other than that cell phones constantly broadcast who they are and their number to companies that are logging those broadcasts ? That's how the fucking system works. The police can somewhat shortcut that process to get a little bit more accurate information.

Furthermore the main reason phones are broadcasting their location as accurately as possible is to aim antennas on them ... Why ? Because that way the carrier can support a greater density of phones and a greater density of antennas. Before long this will be accurate to within a few centimeters (and I don't imagine it will stop there). If you want more bandwith on mobile, we have to do this.

I feel this is like complaining your car sometimes drives ... Yes the effect on privacy is bad (assuming the compromise of turning off transmitters is too much to ask, as it clearly is), but it's how the technology works.

This is the same principle at work as "information wants to be free". Copyrighted works are available for free, because the technology to block transmission will always lose to technology to transmit. But the same goes for any information. There are a million valid reasons to broadcast information about you and of around you, one of which is a cell phone network. That means that where you are, what you're doing, who you're with ... will tend to become public information over time.

My problem with all this is that the ACLU had to fight to uncover what the police were doing. Then, in order to protect law enforcement secret technology, the Federal government also jumped in.

As usual, technologies and laws that were brought in to "fight terrorism" now find their way into domestic non-terrorist-fighting contexts; then the government wants to exert its special powers that we gave it to fight terrorism against us the citizens.

It's always a fight to prevent those in power from seizing more and more power.

2) In some ways, the Chinese have the advantage there, because the state perceived that a new political party with a few thousand members might have been a threat to their power. In the US, you can form as many new political parties as you like, but not one of them will ever get anyone elected. Tanks do not show up at organization meetings because they are not necessary. Change is prevented by other, less visible means. No one dies before the cameras.

3) The problem is that private and usually harmless behaviors have become increasingly criminalized. As Cardinal Richelieu put it, a devious prosecutor can find a capital crime in as little as six lines written by an innocent. When the state records all that you do, the only thing required to destroy you absolutely is a reason to look you up in the index.

We have good reasons to value privacy and pseudoanonymity. I, for one, would like to be able to pick my nose and scratch my balls sometimes, without fearing that someone is watching--or even recording it for my later humiliation.

As for those antennas? They can be aimed via computer algorithm, without ever involving a human. Beyond that point, no one needs to know where my phone is. Even in the most lenient scenario, where the company actually needs to analyze patterns of phone locations to provide service, it is not necessary to uniquely identify those phones or connect them with a person.

1) Don't know but people can do some pretty evil things when part of a system.

2) I don't think that the US is totalitarian but it is worth fighting to keep it that way (likewise the UK where I am) before it gets to that point. I'm coming to think that elections are a fairly minor part of freedom (though still important) and the critical parts are the checks and balances and the the limits on authority and government power and centralisation of that power. And that the situation is not as bad (or even nowhere near as bad) as a brutally repressive totalitarian regime at one of its worst points is not the comparison that should be being make. The US should be comparing itself against the most free countries and its own ideals not against some of the worst things.

3) No problem at all but law enforcement should show probable cause and get a warrant first in most circumstances before interfering with people's legitimate communications. (It sounds like they are impersonating a cell tower and preventing the communications directly travelling between the local users and the cell company, even if they are forwarding the signal they are still interfering and if they are impersonating the cell company and requesting details from the phone that are only intended for the cell company that sounds like unauthorized access to a computer to me).

So they are not people, and most definitely are not attempting to do their jobs in any way, shape or fashion? Gotcha.

They are people, and they are doing their jobs. It's just that people are capable of horrible crimes, and these jobs shouldn't exist.

And nothing works better at implementing a police state than a fervent belief that your nation and culture are somehow 'special' and occupy a unique place in history. It allows you to disregard hard-learned lessons of the past. Lessons like 'Tyranny lurks always just around the corner, and the speed and ease with which it will manifest itself, is as breathtaking as it is terrifying."

The jobs should exist but there should be some actual oversight with serious penalties for transgressions.

Heh, to be clear I'm not saying there should be no police, rather that what these police are doing shouldn't be part of the job description.

Thanks for speaking for me. Actually I would rather speak for myself. Try citing a study or some statistics next time.

> police were lurking outside people’s windows and sending powerful electronic signals into their private homes in order to collect information from within.

Is it just me or does this not sound terribly terrible? My neighbours wifi router sends "powerful electronic signals" into my private home every day.

Police aren't allowed to troll through neighborhoods with heat sensors looking for pot-growers, so how is this that different?

The idea is that they are probing the contents of private homes without a warrant, no? What's the purpose of a warrant if the police can just scan the contents of your house from the street?

> My neighbours wifi router sends "powerful electronic signals" into my private home every day.

Making your phone use max power to emit information is nothing like the wifi radiation you get from your neighbors.

It is though; its all non-ionising radiation. Both the wifi and your phones broadcast information indiscriminately in the interest of connecting to infrastructure.

The similarity between the two shouldn't be ignored, since there's potential for the comparison between phone's and wifi devices to come up in legal proceedings (if they haven't already).

> It is though; its all non-ionising radiation. Both the wifi and your phones broadcast information indiscriminately in the interest of connecting to infrastructure.

I was not referring to their nature, but to the power of the emission.

> Whereas a mobile phone can range from 21 dBm (125 mW) for Power Class 4 to 33 dBm (2W) for Power class 1, a wireless router can range from a typical 15 dBm (30 mW) strength to 27 dBm (500 mW) on the high end

The radiations from your phone are more powerful than from your traditional router, plus your emitter is usually close to your body, while you usually far away from a wifi router.

According to Wikipedia[1], the solar radiation at Earth is roughly 1361 W/m^2 at the top of the atmosphere. The atmosphere will deflect a small fraction of it, but won't change the value much. Therefore, if you draw a circle of 2-inch diameter on your palm and hold it out toward the sun in a sunny day, that circle receives about 3W of energy (0.0254^2 * pi * 1361 = 2.76), i.e., greater than all the energy your body receives from a "Power Class 1" mobile phone (assuming you somehow magically absorb ALL its radiation).

Not to mention that the solar radiation actually contains ionizing UV rays. Sunlight is vastly more likely to cause cancer than cell phones. Literally.

If you're so worried about radiation, use sunscreen. You're welcome.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_constant

Thanks for the Strawman ! I did not expect this one. First, where did I ever write that I was worried about radiations ? I was simply clarifying what I meant when i said that the emissions were different between a wifi router and a mobile phone. If I say an apple and an orange are different, does it mean i'm worried about eating those?

> Not to mention that the solar radiation actually contains ionizing UV rays.

I guess the ozone layer is completely useless then. I'm glad I learn things on HN every day.

> Sunlight is vastly more likely to cause cancer than cell phones. Literally.

Where did I mention anything about Cancer ?

Didn't Congress just pass a law that makes it illegal to get brain cancer from your cell phone?

> My neighbours wifi router sends "powerful electronic signals" into my private home every day.

But it isn't sent by government agents "in order to collect information from within", which is a key factor in the description.

How is this not an illegal search in the same way that the use of infrared cameras has been shown to be?


Infrared cameras look into your domicile while the StingRay looks for signals being sent out. They are not looking in to see what is there, they are capturing what is coming out. It is different enough to be litigated up to the Supreme Court.

That being said, I in no way support this. I have no choice but to use my phone which makes me into a tracking target.

In America it turns out we are all targets in order to exclude each one of us from being Terrorists. Police cars now capture license plates and upload them to a central database (plantir), the whole Internet is being captured and held for 3 days at a time while parts are being kept for longer, the outside of mail is being scanned and captured by the USPS, every major mail facility (fedex, ups, etc) are mandated to have federal agents who open mail and then re-seal it so you never know, etc and so on. I have had to double the tin foil on my hat because one layer is just not enough! It is getting crazy.

I also don't support this, but I don't see the distinction. You/your home is emitting the infrared radiation, just like the phone is emitting the signal.

Well, sure, it sounds bad when you phrase it like that.

anything sounds bad when you say it like that...

Perhaps you're forgetting that the police likely believed they were doing the right thing and attempting to bring a bad guy to justice.

It's not a popular sentiment on HN, but not all police officers are part of the shoot / oppress first, ask questions later school of policing.

>not all police officers are part of the shoot / oppress first, ask questions later school of policing.

But these were. You're creating a false dichotomy between cops who violate people's rights and cops who think that they're doing the right thing.

Literally everyone believes they are doing the right thing. Everyone justifies their actions, at least to themselves.

"It's not a popular sentiment on HN, but not all police officers are part of the shoot / oppress first, ask questions later school of policing."

To be fair, even those of that school like believe "they [are] doing the right thing and attempting to bring a bad guy to justice."

> the police likely believed they were doing the right thing

You mean, just like TSA officers who believe that X-raying everyone who boards a plane is the right thing if we want to catch these darn terrorists?

Law enforcement officers, of all people, should know and respect The Law, shouldn't they? I mean, "ignorance of the law is no excuse", and they are doing a special job which requires special knowledge, skills and care. So, I think that we can assume they knew they weren't doing "the right thing". Stingrays are pretty clearly against the spirit of American Democracy and Law Enforcement, as traditionally held.

Beyond that, the ends rarely justify the means, even legally. There are supposed to be limits to how the police find stuff out. See 4th Amendment. Traditional sense of fair play, decency, etc.

> Beyond that, the ends rarely justify the means, even legally.

The ends often justifies the means, even legally, its just that the cases where the proposition that the means used is justified by the ends served isn't controversial don't get any attention, in much the same way that you never see news stories of the form "Today, the following areas had no major earthquakes..."

Honestly, this is all being done over public airwaves. It may be an FCC violation (cell phone jammers?), but I don't think that's what the ACLU is upset about here.

The part that seems shady to me is that Verizon appears to think it is OK to give out customer information to law enforcement without a warrant. Without being able to tie a device ID to a person, its all just a bunch of numbers.

I can't see how this is constitutional without a warrant. How is this different than using an infrared detector outside someones home?

There's no way it's constitutional. These days that doesn't seem to be of much importance.

> These days that doesn't seem to be of much importance.

It's not of much importance because nobody is outraged by it and nobody is fighting it (apart from a few organizations whose only action is to complain through their websites).

The corporate "news" media essentially ignores dissemination of this information and instead jams us full of useless blather about Benghazi and $random_celebrity.

If enough people actually heard about this then there'd be a big furor.

I don't quite understand how this is a constitution issue?

I get that the Fourth Amendment protects against warrantless entry, but if you're using a device that is producing a signal that leaves the boundaries of your property, is capturing that signal considered warrantless?

I don't see the nuance between the Stingray device and Wifi networks. If a police officer were to identify your home via a wifi network SSID, would that be warrantless entry?

There's a good deal of nuance to these sorts of questions. For example, police may look at your house from the street in the visible spectrum, but may not look at your house from the street in the infra-red spectrum without a warrant.

Technically speaking, EVERYTHING in your house is giving off some kind of indication that could theoretically be captured and re-assembled.

IMO the only reasonable interpretation is that the 4th Amendment protects you from anything beyond whatever passes for ordinary observation by normal people.

And that's what the supreme court basically said. It's one thing for the police to look in an open window - but quite another for them to scan your home with a thermal imager.


I seem to remember some interesting stuff about wireless in the US during the Google mapcar fiasco. Something about its not whether its in the clear and broadcast but if people think that it is determining a lot of the law around it.

Memory is fuzzy and my searches aren't turning up the results I'm looking for. Does anyone else remember this?

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IMSI-catcher:

"The IMSI catcher masquerades as a base station and logs the IMSI numbers of all the mobile stations in the area, as they attempt to attach to the IMSI-catcher. It allows forcing the mobile phone connected to it to use no call encryption (i.e., it is forced into A5/0 mode), making the call data easy to intercept and convert to audio."

If it is possible for an Android/iOS app to detect when a GSM call is initiated without encryption then it should be possible to warn the user. Does anyone know if the encryption level is available to the OS, or is it restricted to the baseband processor?

As usual, everything interesting happens on the baseband processor. It would be trivial to detect that an IMSI catcher is used, even when it has support for encryption (unlikely given the age of the Stingray system and the need to communicate back with the mobile provider).

But alas, all the baseband processors are propietary software designed by companies that will happily compromise your privacy.

I think it's restricted to the baseband, but I'm not an expert. Fun fact: SIM cards actually have a flag which tells the handset to display a warning to the user if they are using an unencrypted connection. Basically no commercial SIM cards have this flag enabled.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKihq1fClQg

I believe you have to enable a bit to _disable_ the warning (eg, it should be there as default). On my own network with my own sim cards, I've yet to find a modern handset that actually alerts me, though :(

Just re-watched the talk (was going from memory) and it seems you're right, it's "enable this flag to disable the warning".

This is great. I wonder if by making the stingray'd phones transmit at full power, it allows them to find the phone quicker/easier.

How quickly can someone create a phone widget that shows when your cell "tower" has asked your phone to transmit at full power?

Pie in the sky idea: App that indexes cell towers to a central database. When a new tower goes up, it undergoes a confirmation process that verifies its presence for some given amount of time before adding it to the list of confirmed cell towers. The software would then give you the ability to choose to only engage with/respond to registered towers.

This would only work if a good amount of people adopted it (and various other contingencies were satisfied).

There are legitimate uses for temporary base stations - often at large sports events cellular providers will install portable temporary stations for example.

The phone could just notify you: "A temporary base station has been detected - do you want to allow this?"

How would it know that the base station was temporary?

This is somewhere between a rhetorical question and a real one, in that I don't know enough about low-level cell protocols to know if temporary base stations identify themselves in a way that is detectable compared to "permanent" ones, but I would assume they don't?

If there's no way to tell the difference between a temporary and permanent station such a notification would quickly become unbearable as it would pop up each time a new station is seen.

OpenSignal already has a database of towers, with their associated FCC ID info. It would be trivial to crowdsource rouge/out of place "towers".

To reply to my own comment, I realized that this could potentially be done more simply by just attempting to place a dummy call to an un-indexed tower when encountered (my understanding is that a Stingray isn't actually capable of handling calls). If >99% of calls failed (basically 100% with room for error), the tower could be confirmed bad and blacklisted.

In Australia this information is freely available in public databases anyway. Obviously temporary towers might not be present in these records though.

Also in Australia most / ?all? state police detectives carry General Search warrants, which allow them to search your property and person without applying to a court on 'reasonable suspicion' -whatever that means. I'm not sure if they have to arrest you first, but that doesn't really matter.

A 'General Search warrant' is a thing that shouldn't even exist, let alone that police detectives should be walking around with them. This is wrong on so many levels.

Wow, why even bother with making them carry "General Search" warrants if they can basically do whatever they want anyways? In the U.S., our police can claim to smell marijuana during a traffic stop and use that as a reason to rip your car apart looking for it.

The closest thing to this is an Android app called 'Antennas' which looks like it is no longer being developed.


Transmitting at full power probably isn't that rare. It could mean you're far away from the tower you're talking to, and that could even happen if a tower nearby is overloaded and you've been handed off to a more distant one to balance the load. It could also be due to noise on the channel, being in a building that blocks the signal, etc.

Also, information from the baseband processor in your phone (the processor that handles the radio transceiver, and would know what power you were transmitting at) may not be easily available to the processor that runs the apps.

an attempt could probably be made to calculate the power usage assuming it is the main power consumer by subtracting other major users of power like CPU, screen brightness, wifi, etc.

actually, scratch that. most android phones have per-component power consumption readings, so while you couldn't get the actual tx power, you could just base it off of the baseband power usage.

Depending on what information is available, you might be able to get a good idea if it's fake or legit by looking at signal strength, jitter, latency when communicating with that tower.

If the phone is mostly stationary, then there could be a cause for concern on the phone's behalf.


I think one of the ones that "flash and light up when the phone rings" would do the trick for you. At least that is urban legend among people who need that kind of warning as I understand it.

Edit: ThinkGeek sells one... http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/a150/

Stingray? Is that American slang? In the rest of the world, the device is called IMSI catcher:


From another ALCU link elsewhere in the comments:

> cell phone tracking devices known as “stingrays.” (The devices are also known as “cell site simulators” or “IMSI catchers.”)

It seems that 'Stingway' is a manufacturer's brand name, thanks!

I wonder, can you make a device that's an anti-stingray? I mean a device that detects a stingray is present and compromises it somehow.

Well you could detect if your cell tower(s) changed strength or location for no reason, and then spam the relevant radio frequencies with noise, or a clear signal. In general the co-channel interference is bad enough that most clients can't talk if they've got two or more radios broadcasting on the same frequency in the same cell at the same power. But increased noise is a sure-fire way to corrupt signal.

You could also take up too many channels to keep it from servicing more clients. Or broadcast too many handset identifiers, flooding them with random traffic so it's hard to tell if they've actually found their handset or it just came up randomly.

Currently designing a device to do that it will use the same signal as the stingray under a tesla design it will reroute a fake signal to send a high electrical pulse safe to humans to the stingray causing it to become a receptor of the signal and frying it under electrical load kind of like a solar storms effects on electrical devices in space

with access to the radio firmware if your phone you can

good luck getting it though

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact