[Ed. – If this happened under a Republican president, it would be the only thing the media talked about. And I would consider it just as wrong.]
The Central Intelligence Agency played a crucial role in helping the Justice Department develop technology that scans data from thousands of U.S. cellphones, part of a little-known high-tech alliance between the spy agency and domestic law enforcement, according to people familiar with the work.
Together, the CIA and the U.S. Marshals Service, an agency of the Justice Department, developed technology to locate specific cellphones in the U.S. through an airborne device that mimics a cellphone tower, these people said. Today, the Justice Department program, whose existence was first reported by The Wall Street Journal last year, is used to hunt criminal suspects. The same technology is used to hunt terror suspects and intelligence targets overseas, the people said.
The Justice Department program operates specially equipped planes that fly from five U.S. cities, with a flying range covering most of the U.S. population. Planes are equipped with devices—some past versions were dubbed as “dirtboxes” by law-enforcement officials—which trick cellphones into reporting their unique registration information. In that way, the surveillance system briefly identifies large numbers of cellphones belonging to citizens unrelated to the search. The practice can also briefly interfere with the ability to make calls, these people said.
Some law-enforcement officials, however, are concerned the aerial surveillance of cellphone signals inappropriately mixes together traditional police work with the tactics and technology of overseas spy work that is constrained by fewer rules. Civil liberties groups say the technique amounts to a digital dragnet of innocent Americans’ phones.