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Cell Phone Snooping: 1991 - Present: Triggerfish, Stingray and Beyond

By       Message Glen Roberts       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   3 comments, In Series: Privacy and Surveillance

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Many of you have heard of the so-called Stingray. Not the fish, but rather a device used by police agencies, intelligence agencies and possibly others to intercept, monitor, and record cell phone conversations. You can pop the word into Google News search to find out more than you want to know about it.

Because the Stingray is nothing more than glorified radio receiver, there is no technological means to detect if it is being used. Hence, the ability to use such a device by individuals without any legal authorization is unlimited. The only risk is if they disclose any of the information obtained in a matter that would demonstrate their method of obtaining it.

Although Stingray has received significant amount of attention in the media in recent times, it is hardly anything new. In the good old days, one would simply use an off the shelf police scanner and manually operate it with hopes of encountering their target or another interesting conversation.

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In the early 1990s, Harris Corporation, developed what they called the Triggerfish. According to a paper titled: "Your Secret Stingray's No Secret Anymore: The Vanishing Government Monopoly Over Cell Phone Surveillance and Its Impact on National Security and Consumer Privacy" by Stephanie K. Pell, Stanford University - Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society and Christopher Soghoian, Yale University - Yale Information Society Project, Triggerfish was the precursor to the Stingray. You can download the full PDF paper at the above link.

The paper notes that, "Passive devices, often referred to as digital analyzers, were used by law enforcement agencies as early as 1991. [61]". The footnote 61 refers to an article I published regarding the 1991 NTIA (National Technical Investigators Association) annual conference and Harris Corporations advertising the Triggerfish at that conference.

The paper continues, "Despite their use since at least 1991, [95] it was not until 1995 that a federal magistrate judge in California published the first decision analyzing a government application to use a digital analyzer. 96 In this matter, the government wanted court authorization to use a passive surveillance device any cellular phone used by any one of five named subjects of a criminal investigation".

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Footnote 95 again refers to my disclosure of Harris Corporations marketing campaign in 1991. Apparently, it took at least 4 years from the introduction of the device before any US Government agency sought permission to use it! At the time I was publishing information on that, I questioned whether the market for the legal use of such devices was large enough to support the development of those products, much less their marketing efforts.

Regarding Harris Corporation and their 1991 marketing at the NTIA Conference, which including distribution of a ten page slick, color, glossy brochure, I wrote an article expressing my views on the conference and products being marketed to the members. I also included copies of some of the product brochures as a part of my commentary, including those for the Triggerfish.

I also wrote this summary of the product:

Harris Law Enforcement Products TRIGGERFISH has a number of cellular phone based applications: determining a suspects phone number, dialed number recorder, and wiretapping. According to Harris, ''for the first time, law enforcement is not at a disadvantage in tracking the high-tech criminal.'' Additionally, the unit ''collects and integrates all relevant data, including voice, directly from the ether.''

I don't have the exact date of my publication of that information, however, I believe it was shortly after the 1991 NTIA Conference, hence in 1991 or early 1992.

In mid 1993, Harris Corporation apparently became aware that I was expressing my viewpoint on their product and was not appreciative of the public knowledge about their device. They fired off a harsh nastygram, in apparent hopes of curing all that ailed me.

HARRIS [letterhead]

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May 26, 1993

Mr. Glen L. Roberts Editor/Publisher Full Disclosure [old address removed]

Dear Mr. Roberts:

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Forging a path through life without involuntary allegiances: On June 21, 2013 I walked into the US Embassy a American Citizen and a short time later walked out without any nationality at all.

Author of "How to Renounce Your U.S. (more...)

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