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Disneyland's Local Police Force Caught Secretly Using Powerful Phone Spying Tools

Illustration for article titled Disneylands Local Police Force Caught Secretly Using Powerful Phone Spying Tools

If you’ve visited Disneyland, you may have seen a small plane fly overhead at one point. The OC is full of rich-ass people, might be a Newport Beach golfer, no big deal, right? Except, as it turns out, the Anaheim police department had access to military-grade dragnet phone spying equipment, the kind that can suck up your phone’s information from an airplane along with thousands of others.


Anaheim isn’t a big city. With a population of 336,265, it is substantially smaller than Wichita, Kansas and Mesa, Arizona. This is how entrenched America’s berserk surveillance culture is: A suburban city’s police department had access to spying tools called dirtboxes, the same spying tools sought by the Air Force. Insane militarization isn’t just for big-city cops.

Anaheim Police requested a Homeland Security grant to fund its dirtbox purchase, it claimed that “every city in Orange County has benefited from the DRT device.” Unless the police lied on this request, this means that Anaheim’s secret spy tool had a wide-enough range to reach people in other cities. It also means that the millions of tourists passing through Disneyland would’ve been within reach.


The FBI is so ferociously tight-lipped about its use of surveillance equipment that it has advised police to dismiss criminal cases rather than expose information about Stingrays, which are spying devices that mimic cell phone towers, allowing owners to intercept information from cell phones. “Dirtbox” devices are similar to Stingrays, except they can go in airplanes, which makes them even more potent since it increases the number of phones they can spy on. And as Ars Technica points out, some dirtboxes can break encryption on hundreds of cell phones at once. They are extremely powerful dragnet spying devices.

The FBI’s attitude towards Stingrays and dirtboxes has been mimicked by law enforcement. I say Anaheim was “caught” with these tools because, like the FBI, it did everything it could to keep them secret. The American Civil Liberties Union released the documents yesterday, but only after fighting a court battle to obtain them.

California passed a law requiring warrants for police use of dirtboxes, Stingrays, and other electronic surveillance tools—but it only went into effect January 1, 2016. It’s not clear if Anaheim ever sought warrants previously. Considering it labeled the dirtboxes a “Covert Purchase,” and the level of secrecy shown in emails about the devices, it is clear that the police told as few people as possible.

Illustration for article titled Disneylands Local Police Force Caught Secretly Using Powerful Phone Spying Tools

Screenshot from ACLU documents

We already knew that Chicago and Los Angeles police used dirtboxes for years, along with the FBI, but now it’s evident that use of these devices is even more widespread than previously thought. The good news is that laws are finally catching up with the police. The terrifying news is that we need new laws to protect our privacy from the people supposedly protecting us.


[Ars Technica via ACLU]

Image: AP


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Son, we live in a world that has pink walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with listening devices. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Mickey? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Goofy, and you curse the Secret Disney police. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Goofy’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at tea parties, you want me on that pink wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like wonder, magic, fantasy. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the Frozen licensed blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, over to the teacup ride. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a Disney Frozen Sparkle Elsa Doll (on sale at the giftshop for $9.99), and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to.