If your phone has dropped a call or lost service while you were in Anaheim, it might seem like it is logical to blame Disneyland. More than 16 million people visit Anaheim every year as part of their journey to Disneyland. Combine that with the three million residents of Orange County, and at any given time, cell phone traffic in Anaheim can be extremely heavy.
However, a recent discovery by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) revealed a far more insidious problem with cell phone coverage around the Magic Kingdom. The Anaheim Police Department has been using plane-mounted surveillance equipment to intercept cell signals and record trackable data from phones, all without having first obtained a search warrant.
Digging for Dirt with “Dirtboxes”
The ACLU obtained documents showing the Anaheim Police Department’s indiscriminate use of Digital Receiver Technology, Inc.’s (DRT) equipment mounted on planes patrolling the skies above Orange County. DRT boxes (also known as “Dirtboxes”) are forms of stingray, which are phone signal intercept devices used by the military, intelligence agencies and the FBI.
These devices are used to mimic cell phone towers, and more often than not, the signal emitted by a Dirtbox is strong enough to force phones to disconnect from a service provider’s cell site and establish a new connection with the Dirtbox. In 2013, Anaheim’s Chief of Police approved upgrades to the equipment, allowing Anaheim police to track signals carried on LTE networks, which carry the traffic of millions of smartphones each day.
The result is millions of cell phone users unwittingly connecting with a government surveillance device and unknowingly disclosing private information to the Anaheim Police Department and other Orange County police agencies that leased the devices from Anaheim PD.