Domestic surveillance and police riots

San Diego has so far escaped the worst of the 2020 police riots, but I’ve still been keeping an eye out. My primary tool for doing so is ADS-B aircraft broadcasts and the OpenADSB iOS app. Here are some sample traces, showing the police helicopters over the city:

It’s notable that the helicopter probably has unbelievably good cameras (gyro stabilizers with long zoom lenses are better than you think) and could well have infrared also. And yesterday, Timothy Shea brought in the DEA to surveill the protests too. That’s not just human intelligence and AT&T’s massive data; it’s also flying dirt boxes.

What the heck is a dirtbox?

TL;DR – it mimics a cell tower and grabs the unique IDs from a phone. They can also intercept text messages and phone calls, and you should assume that they see all non-encrypted communications. All.

Yesterday, I saw this on the app:

That’s a Cessna 206, owned by the DEA, flying out of Montgomery field and meandering over San Diego. I should have gotten more screenshots, but it flew around for a while and followed the coastline north. I consider this high-probability that they’re flying dirtboxes over our cities and recording who’s at the protests.

Take action

  • If you go to a protest, read this EFF guide before leaving home.
  • The ACLU has a good primer on your legal rights.
  • Then read this Wired guide.
  • If you need a device, consider this one (I got one for Android testing and projects and it’s excellent). Strongly consider not installing a SIM card in it. That flying dirtbox will grab it and link you to it via the cell providers’ database of who’s paying for the account. Maybe keep the SIM card taped to the phone for an emergency or later call?
  • Read this about photography.

Consider donating to the EFF and/or ACLU. Vote when you can.

Posted by

Computer engineer from San Diego. Obsessed with hardware, software, timekeeping and elegance.

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