In the 21st century, technological advancement has brought on many revolutions. There is no denying that our lives have become significantly easier due to various inventions like laptops, tablets and smartphones. But, the fact is that everything has its cons. There has to be a downside to all this technology. Even though it took a bit of time for people to become aware, they eventually came to the realization that they were sacrificing their privacy with this technology. Every move you make on these devices can be recorded and tracked, which means you are left vulnerable.
Initially, we had to be worried about cyber criminals and hackers who could attempt to steal our information and use it against us. However, it has come to light that our governments may also be spying on us through smartphones. In 2013, former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden disclosed documents stating that the US government was spying on the US citizens through their smartphones. This caused a huge uproar and still remains a controversial topic as the government has not confirmed if a mass surveillance program was in effect. The question is how governments may be spying on us through smartphones?
There are several ways this can be done. First, when your GPS is on, your wireless company is tracking you and they are recording your text messages and phone calls. They can sell this information to anyone who is willing to pay for the data and the governments are their popular clients. CIA hackers also possess spyware that enables them to listen to people’s phone conversations. Even if your phone is off, government agencies can control it remotely, take pictures, record information and take advantage of it. In another way the law is being circumvented is through the use of ‘Stingrays’.
These are devices that mimic the functions performed by cell phone towers and can pinpoint the physical location of a phone or take note of the number they are calling. The content of the communication cannot be accessed by these devices as they are only intercepting the phone’s signals. While this method is often used by federal agents and the police department, most of the time, the government goes to the phone company for the information. They seek cell-site location information or CSLI. This is created when a cellphone talks to a cellphone tower. Basically, it is a record of the towers pinged by the phone, the direction from where it came and the time. There is an interesting infographic on Local Digital in this regard.
Governments can ask for historical CSLI i.e. get this kind of location data of the past days, weeks or months. The second kind of CSLI that can be sought by the government is real-time where they ask for the current location or the pings for the upcoming week. They can also ask the phone company to send a ping to generate its own record of CSLI. The last way is a ‘tower dump’, which means governments can ask for the CSLI of different towers for spying on us.