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NSA American spying
The Cessa operation: technically legal, but ethically murkyvia

Planes in America's skies are listening in on you

Cessna aeroplanes are flying across the US, scooping up data from the people underfoot

Here's one more revelation about the extent of US surveillance to add onto an already extensive list: for the past seven years, the government has flown Cessna planes across the country to pick up information from citizens' mobile phones. The programme has the ability to retrieve private texts and photos.

According to the Wall Street Journal, devices planted on the planes imitate mobile phone towers and gather cellphone data irrespective of whether or not the person is suspected of a crime. By using this method of imitation, the planes trick people's mobiles into releasing information including location data. In a single flight, an Cessna aircraft can harness information on tens of thousands of people underfoot.

Post Edward Snowden, it appears that the US government is leaving no stone unturned in its quest to know absolutely everything about everyone. These planes fly from five different airports and cover most of the US population. The programme is extremely similar to the NSA's blanket search of citizen communications, in that both comb far and wide in order to trace certain individuals. Even encrypted phones can be breached using the "fake phone tower aeroplanes".

Christopher Soghoian, chief technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, told the WSJ, "It’s inexcusable and it’s likely – to the extent judges are authorizing it – they have no idea of the scale of it."

The technology can interrupt calls and jam signals, and bypasses mobile phone companies to access customer information such as text messages and photos. Apparently the Cessna operation is totally legal but is (obviously) extremely murky ethics-wise.

"Maybe it’s worth violating privacy of hundreds of people to catch a suspect," Soghoian added, "but is it worth thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of peoples’ privacy?"

In similarly creepy news, around 45 mysterious cell phone towers were discovered across the US in August. Nobody knows who they belong to or what they're for. Some people have suggested they're the work of criminal gangs, while others speculate that they're owned by foreign spies. But the most likely story? That they're owned by the US government and are used to collect data from the population. Yeah, that sounds about right.