All Airport SMS traffic data-mined?

So my friend needed to buy a new camera today just before going to the airport on her way to NYC (from YYZ in Toronto). She texted me after clearing customs to say that she wanted to open the packaging of her new camera but didn’t have anything sharp to use b/c she was past customs. I suggested asking if any of the duty-free stores or restaurants had anything sharp she could borrow and loe-and-behold she was lent a pair of scissors!

Anyways, I got to wondering: she was sending me a bunch of sms messages from the airport which related to, in a sense, using prohibited items in a secure area. I started joking with her about TLAs monitoring the SMS traffic by sending some texts that contained blatantly violent ideas and other random stuff like ‘allahu akbar’.

Is there any evidence that TLAs monitor the sms traffic closest to airport cellular towers? Also, theoretically, could my friend be arrested for sending private texts about violence on planes or would authorities lack probable cause (b/c perhaps SMS datamining is in a grey-area of the law?)

65 views, 0 replies. I guess anyone who knows the answer to this question probably isn’t allowed to say anything :slight_smile:

They would have to hire 13 year old interpreters to decipher a lot of the texts.


I believe SMS messages are digitally encrypted (as are digital voice calls) and only the service company would be able to intercept and monitor them. Although there have been some smarmy incidents where large phone companies have provided billing records to the government without a warrant, I have not heard of actual calls or other transmission content being provided, or being monitored. TSA Is not supposed to be a law enforcement or investigative agency; they have a narrow mission, although have been accused of overstepping their bounds.And TSA simply doesn’t have the wherewithal to do this, which is more like what NSA might pull.

It’s a pretty big assumption there is real-time electronic monitoring, coupled with real-time intervention occurring with any law enforcement authority anywhere in the world.

Not suggesting it’s entirely credible, this being GQ and all.

I would think it would constitute a wiretap, although after Sept-11 and Bush, who knows where the legality line is drawn on wiretaps anymore. But what would they hope to gain? My post earlier was a joke, but had a little truth in it… that a lot of texts barely make any sense. You’d have to decipher a lot of them and decide if they’re threatening. Is this SMS threatening: “that lady gagas the bomb!”? Any sane, rational security employee who knows who Lady Gaga is would obviously find that person, beat them senseless and send them to Gitmo for liking her, but what if they hadn’t heard of Lady Gaga? They have to decide… ‘Was “gagas” a typo for “has”? A lady did something with a bomb? This looks threatening, better safe than sorry!’ The hit to miss ratio would be staggering.

I don’t know if you could track a cell phone in a crowded airport. The last time I flew, there were at least 1000 people crowded together in lines at the security gates, and all of them had cellphones. If they do listen and if you could pinpoint a certain phone in that crowd, I think people would report being yanked out of line by now.

Loved the satirical example, cheers :slight_smile: On a serious note though, if TLAs were linked into the sms database, they would likely have access to the customer database of account owners. So yeah, they wouldn’t be able to stop any remotely intelligent terrorist cell who used disposable phones, but if some local cell of half-wits (similar to these guys) tried to orchestrate something, then perhaps they could cross-reference against ticket purchases (not a particularly unrealistic scenario, two big well-developed databases) and intercept. Or alternatively, if a very credible threat was discovered they could shut down a terminal and do extra screenings or what have you.

perhaps I’m just being paranoid?

If your friend ends up on a no-fly list she can text you your answer from a bus. She’ll have the free-time to thank you properly. :wink:

It’s one thing to get a warrant to gather information to use against you. It’s another thing to monitor every transmission in a little room with no windows by people with no sense of humor (or worse, by people with a sense of humor).

Encryption on the GSM communications is a mixed bag. Depending upon your country and the age of the system, you may have the A5/1 or A5/2 encryption used. A5/2 is purposely weakened, with no good reason other than making it possible to break. Some countries were forced to use A5/0 - which is no encryption. The USA uses A5/2. A5/2 can be broken on a modern PC in about 10 milliseconds. So although your communications are encrypted, it is about as secure as leaving the key under the mat. It is a barrier to eavesdropping, but not a preventative.

The encryption algorithms are supposed to be secret, but enough information has leaked out to enable reverse engineering most of it. Probably the critical secret was not about how the algorithms worked - but how they had been deliberately weakened to enable interception and decryption. Even now, whilst there is a more secure A5/3 encryption being rolled out, it uses a deliberatly weakened key, where ten of the 64 bits in the key are set to zeros.

People might get wound up about all this. But I can’t really see the point. Governments will always demand a mechanism to tap in. It is up to the law to regulate this, not some reliance on continually moving technology. My main complaint is that I think the GSM encryption system has been badly handled. Encryption is supposed to allow users to be secure from criminals and prying idiots. The current mess won’t do this. Don’t be surprised to start hearing intercepted GSM conversations (and SMS conversations) from celebrities and politicians appearing in the gutter news in a while.

Wiretapping a cell phone is even easier than a landline.

You have to remember cell phone companies do encrypt their phone conversations and emails. And the result is…Ah so what?

The government requires all encryption modes to be known to them. Remember cell phones use public airways, like TV, Radio and such. These are not GIVEN to a cell phone company but licensed to them the same way a radio station is.

Because they are licensed to them, they can be revoked. The government isn’t gonna say “Sure you can encrypt the calls and not tell us how your doing it.” No, in order to get the airways, “which in theory belong to the public” you have to register your encyrption scheme with them.

This means the FBI/CIA/NSA whoever can simply record your conversation and they already know the encrypton scheme.

Can they do this legally? No, they have to use the same process as a landline. Will this stop them from doing it? Probably not.

It’s a lot easier to record a jibberish mish-mash that’s floating through the air without anyone knowing it, than it is to hook up a listening device to the landline.

This is why it’s said, cell phones are incredibly easy to tap.

Now if you’re not with the government it’s a heck of a lot harder to decrypt them. But it’s still extremely easy to record the mish-mash conversation.

Does the government spy on you routinely? Probably not. It’d take a huge amount of resources to record everyone, decode it and then search through the converstations.

Like at a place I worked we COULD record every email and Intenet site. We had a keystroke logger too. We COULD turn it on, but it took a lot of resources to do. And the data was huge. I never turned it on and used it unless there was a specific need. Like if someone was sexually harassing others.

And to those who say, “They couldn’t use the evidence in court,” you’re right without a warrent that particular evidence isn’t worth much, but so what? Just because they can’t use it in court doesn’t mean they can’t use it to catch you. Then they just find another way to prosecute you