VICE News found hallmarks of controversial IMSI catchers around the UK capital, then went undercover online, where we were offered the chance to buy one for $15,000.
A VICE News investigation has found evidence that sophisticated surveillance equipment that spies on people’s phones is being used across London, and uncovered a growing black market for the technology worldwide.
Signs of IMSI catchers — also known as stingrays or cell-site simulators — were found at several locations in the British capital, including UK parliament, a peaceful anti-austerity protest, and the Ecuadorian embassy.
A former senior surveillance insider also confirmed to VICE News that they have been used by UK police.
The portable devices are typically used by state law enforcement. They monitor thousands of phones at a time, and are capable of intercepting calls, text messages, and emails.
After going undercover, however, VICE News was offered an IMSI catcher for $15,000 from a company that claimed to have sold the devices to private companies and state law enforcement all over the world — including Russia, Africa, and the US.
VICE News could not determine whether the signals it detected in London belonged to state apparatus, in part because of a UK law enforcement policy of refusing to discuss IMSI catchers on national security grounds.
IMSI catchers work by pretending to be mobile phone base stations, which connect our phones to the network. Phones connecting to the devices surrender their unique identifier (IMSI) and can be monitored.
However, they have sparked controversy among civil liberties campaigners because they automatically harvest information from all phones in a given radius — including those used by innocent people.
VICE News worked with global surveillance watchdog Privacy International over several months to accumulate evidence of IMSI catchers… Read More