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Tracking Via Anonymous SIM Cards 426

Posted by michael
from the leaving-a-calling-card dept.
Noryungi writes "The New York Times reports that Al Qaeda operatives were tracked using the ID of the GSM phone chips sold by a Swiss company named Swisscom. Very interesting."
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Tracking Via Anonymous SIM Cards

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  • I don't get it.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lehk228 (705449) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @11:53AM (#8464563) Journal
    How is this a big deal, they can track cell phones... not news.
  • by grub (11606)

    The terrorism investigation code-named Mont Blanc began almost by accident in April 2002, when authorities intercepted a cellphone call that lasted less than a minute and involved not a single word of conversation. Investigators, suspicious that the call was a signal between terrorists [...]

    Read that again: investigators became suspicious after listening to the call. They basically admit to what people have suspected for years: that intelligence agencies cast a broad net to monitor all sorts of communica
    • by prisoner-of-enigma (535770) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:00PM (#8464688) Homepage
      Perhaps you should read it again, then. Investigators were not listening to random calls taken in by a broad net. Prior capture of other terrorists had yielded all sorts of phone numbers, addresses, and other contact and location information. Intelligence agencies then homed in on these particular phone numbers, recorded everything, and then analyzed it later. But I'm sure it sounds much more interesting if you try to paint it as some sort of grand conspiracy.
    • by back_pages (600753) <back_pages&cox,net> on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:02PM (#8464713) Journal
      Hey now, I'm sympathetic to your fears about indiscriminate tapping of communications, but I don't think you can support your conclusions at all.

      It does say that the investigators became suspicious after listening to the call. It doesn't say why they were listening in the first place. They might have been investigating the guy for drug deals, heard the suspicious call, looked a little closer, and uncovered links to terrorism. The only evidence against that is the phrase "Investigators, suspicious that the call was a signal between terrorists", which implies that the suspicion caused the investigation. That could easily be written off as creativity on the part of the journalist.

      Incredible claims require unquestionable proof, I think. Yes, there is clearly reason to be suspicious of how the government conducts these taps, but I disagree that you've found a clear admission of indiscriminate eavesdropping.

    • It seem to me that they had good reason to be monitoring the call. The phone was monitored because the owner was know to be meeting with militant islamists.

      What's really interesting is that the terrorist didn't realize that the sim card is what identifies you and not the phone. They kept buying new phones and using the same card.
    • by ColdGrits (204506) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:05PM (#8464759)
      Read that again: investigators became suspicious after listening to the call. They basically admit to what people have suspected for years: that intelligence agencies cast a broad net to monitor all sorts of communications traffic with little regard to the law or your privacy.


      Actually, if you RTFA properly then you would realise that they were NOT routinely monitoring calls.

      What they WERE doing was monitoring calls to / from numbers which were on a list of numbers they found when they arrested another terrorist.

      PLEASE try to keep your conspiracy paranoia uner control.

    • Have you been living in a closet for years?

      The US and just about any intelligence agency with enough funding have been monitoring wireless communications. I do not believe any law exists that protects the intercept of openly transmitted signals, if you broadcast it folks can listen. Regardless it is permitted by law, for say the CIA, to monitor non-citizen communications especially outside of the country (obviously in a covert way).

      Additionally you think the government has folks listening to EVERY communi
  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Thursday March 04, 2004 @11:53AM (#8464569)
    The terrorists were lulled into a false sense of security when they kept changing phones, but took their SIM cards from one phone to the next to keep their number and minutes. Therefore, while the hardware changed, the identity didn't. That's what did them in...
    • by Embedded Geek (532893) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:15PM (#8464913) Homepage
      I recall a TV movie [imdb.com] years ago about the prosecution of Nazi war crimes, specifically about (*SPOILER ALERT*) the murders of Allied P.O.W.s by the Gestapo depicted in the movie "The Great Escape."

      One of the big problems after the war was that a lot of SS/Gestapo officers destroyed their records in an effort to claim that they'd served with other units, had had lower ranks, or hadn't even served (a similar thing that is being seen with senior Baathists in Iraq today). In the end, the prosecutors wound up proving the service histories of their suspects by finding that all of them had filled out their government pension paperwork when they'd joined their units or received promotions.

      Again, it was simple greed (or stinginess) that led to their downfall.

  • The terrorism investigation code-named Mont Blanc began almost by accident in April 2002, when authorities intercepted a cellphone call that lasted less than a minute and involved not a single word of conversation.

    I think what I find particularily frightening about that sentence from the article is the implication that this was initiated by what appears to be routine cellphone monitoring.

    Is this kind of thing routine?
    • I think the implication is that they were already tracking one of the two sides of that call, and for that individual to be calling somebody in Pakistan would be very interesting and worth following up on.
    • by prisoner-of-enigma (535770) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:04PM (#8464730) Homepage
      Perhaps you should read it again, then. Investigators were not listening to random calls taken in by a broad net. Prior capture of other terrorists had yielded all sorts of phone numbers, addresses, and other contact and location information. Intelligence agencies then homed in on these particular phone numbers, recorded everything, and then analyzed it later. This is not "routine monitoring," this is targeted intelligence gathering. This is like saying that because the CIA tapped the Russian embassy's phone back in the 60's, the CIA was engaging in routine monitoring of all phone calls in the United States. That's ludicrous, just like suggesting routine monitoring of all cell phone conversations.
      • Umm, actually it is routine to monitor 100% of calls, emails, electronic communcations, (cell phone, land line, GSM, or anything else), ANYWHERE in the world by the CIA. You need to research "Echelon" and "Carniovre". They then pick out keywords, voice pattern matches, suspicious behavour, etc. and do "follow-up" investigations. ALL CALLS ARE RECORDED, most calls are deleted every X hours (X being unknown).
    • The article seems to imply that it was routine because the suspect was seen hanging around with other Mulsim militant/terrorist types.
    • Echelon monitoring? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Wingchild (212447) <brian@wingchild.net> on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:08PM (#8464797) Homepage
      Is this kind of thing routine?

      Given the first +5 Informative FUD troll on this thread it's clear we're in full conspiracy theory mode, so let's trot out Echelon again. :)

      It's theorized that there exists a gigantic electronic SIGINT monitoring network, known as Echelon, which is operated across the Sort Of Free World by the United States, the United Kingdom, and other allies. The system is supposed to be powerful enough to monitor every phonecall, every email, every satellite communication, and handle *all of it simultaneously*. Pattern matching and keyword analysis are done by computers in realtime. Echelon can also make toast, predict stock market trends, and runs it's own psychic hotline.

      On a more serious note, how routine that kind of thing might be requires a more careful analysis of the laws of the United Kingdom, which are not the same as the laws of the United States. I don't know what the rules are over there governing the implicit privacy of information.
    • Yes, it's amazing that one sentence taken alone without the real details can lead to overbroad inaccurate assumptions.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 04, 2004 @11:54AM (#8464591)
    for buying 867-5309.
  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Thursday March 04, 2004 @11:55AM (#8464606)
    Before anybody thinks the spooks were monitoring the "anonymous" prepaid cell phones randomly... RTFA. What got the investigation started was that they found a list of phone numbers when arresting another terrorist, and they all turned out to lead into the hands of high-value targets and the people who spoke to them.
    • to add to the details, it seems they were initially monitoring someone's phone which led them to the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. A search of Mohammed's place yeilded "hundereds" of numbers. Tracing those hundreds of numbers "led investigators to as many as 6,000 phone numbers, which amounted to a virtual road map of Al Qaeda's operations"

  • HA! (Score:5, Funny)

    by leifm (641850) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @11:55AM (#8464619)
    So they think I am always in my underwear drawer, since that is where the SIM card for my last GSM phone has resided for the last year.

    TDMA for life!
    • Re:HA! (Score:5, Informative)

      by LostCluster (625375) * on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:06PM (#8464761)
      TDMA is just as trackable as GSM. The only difference is that the identity of a GSM phone is stored on the chip... move it to new hardware and you still ID to the network the same way. They confused GSM with TDMA...
      • by leifm (641850)
        I know. And really I don't care if I'm being tracked, maybe my routine will be as boring for them as it is for me... work, home, bar, work, home, school, work, home, work, home... Hell they don't even need to bother tracking me.
    • by gid (5195)
      You fool! That's going to lead the underwear gnomes straight to you!

      Phase 1: Collect Underpants...

      oh forget it [gid0ze.net]...
  • by surreal-maitland (711954) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @11:56AM (#8464634) Journal
    a little terrifying, but not so terrifying that i'm going to stop using my cell phone. hey, i don't fit the profile and i only discuss my evil plans back-to-back through a voice modulator. and my secret code is way cooler than thirty seconds of silence.
  • Weirdness.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hookedup (630460) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @11:57AM (#8464648)
    When I bought my latest phone, I had to get the SIM card activated, the salesman asked me for my name, address, etc.. so I began pulling out my wallet for him to copy my ID down. So instead.. he gives me a scrap piece of paper and a pen to put it down, this really seems weird to me.

    Nothing was stopping me from putting down the wrong info (looking back now, maybe I should have). It just struck me as odd how easy it would have been to fake it all..
    • When you get a subscription-based cell phone, they have to run a credit check on you since they're essentially going to have to extend a credit line to you if you ever go over on your allotted minutes. Therefore, if you give a wrong SSN# or address to the sales geek, your credit check will fail and you'll find your phone deactivated about 48 hours after you got it.

      For prepaid phones, since they already have your money they don't care about your credit... if you run out of prepaid minutes they just cut you
    • Re:Weirdness.. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Beautyon (214567) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @01:26PM (#8465824) Homepage
      In France you cannot buy a pay as you go simcard without showing ID. Its bullshit of course, they will sell you one even if you show someone elses ID.

      These self immolating morons dont know anything about security. If they knew even a little, they would switch SIMS for each call, and then discard the SIM. But even that would be no good, because if they were always calling from one of ten cells to another set of ten always used cells, you can build a pattern up and start moniroting all the relevant calls. This as all Slashdotters know is Traffic Analysis.

      They should be sending messages via a human courrier who memorizes messages. Its slow, but what do they care? They waited years to kill themselvs the first time - anything that reveals their locations is a huge risk...thankfully. What we now have to ask is how many people are they actively monitoring, and if its even one person, why have they not (if they have not) picked these people up?

      GWB has hinted that they are bumping these people off - maybe they are all (ex) GSM users?

      Mu favourite GSM/Combat related story is the one where MOSSAD blew off the head of a top Hammas man, by switching his cellphone for one that had an explosive charge put into it. Aparently, he was able to use his phone normally. It was detonated only when a call came from a specific number and he answered it, presumably with a suitable delay for him to lift up the phone to his ear and say "Hello". Cellphones are being used for this sort of thig more and more [66.102.11.104]. Fascinating.
  • Like in Bad Company [imdb.com], starring Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock.
  • by curtisk (191737) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:05PM (#8464744) Homepage Journal
    The officials called the operation one of the most successful investigations since Sept. 11, 2001, and an example of unusual cooperation between agencies in different countries. Led by the Swiss, the investigation involved agents from more than a dozen countries, including the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Britain and Italy.

    Thats all well and good, but calling it "one of the most successful investigations since Sept. 11, 2001" really cheapens what they have accomplished here, since the investigative bar was lowered so far pre-9/11.

    So they are greatly sucessfull in relation to one of the most incredibly flawed and costly intelligence failures in recent times? Thats not saying too much IMHO

  • Swisscom (Score:3, Informative)

    by barcodez (580516) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:05PM (#8464754)
    Swisscom is essential Vodafone Switzerland which is part of Vodafone Global one of the largest, if not the largest mobile network provider, in the world.
    • Re:Swisscom (Score:3, Informative)

      by frozenray (308282)

      Swisscom is essential Vodafone Switzerland which is part of Vodafone Global one of the largest, if not the largest mobile network provider, in the world.

      Swisscom is the privatized (since 1998) communications technology branch of former Swiss state monopolist "PTT". They cooperate with Vodafone on a "mobile multimedia portal" [swisscom-mobile.ch] since 2001 [swisscom.com], but they do not belong to Vodafone in any way.

      Greetings from Switzerland,
      Raymond

  • Oh great... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Syberghost (10557) <syberghost&syberghost,com> on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:05PM (#8464756) Homepage
    They also said they had strong indications that terror suspects, alert to the phones' vulnerability, had largely abandoned them for important communications and instead were using e-mail, Internet phone calls and hand-delivered messages.

    Way to go, NYT; now they're gonna abandon email, Internet phone calls, and hand-delivered messages!

    Don't tell anybody they sometimes talk to each other in person, they might be reading this.
    • The article stated that Al Queda has already figured out that their move-the-SIM-card idea wasn't as smart as they first thought it was, so this is revealing a tool that has already lost its effectiveness.
    • Re:Oh great... (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      RTFA, please. This info was release with the permission of the investigating agencies, as the techniques involved are now deemed to be of little use due to changes in the target's behavior.
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:06PM (#8464771)
    I would suspect that authorities can learn much about people and groups simply by mapping who talks with whom (using technques discussed hrer [slashdot.org]). Even if many of the subjects use anonymous SIM chips and phones, their patterns of calling create a map. And if anyone they call is a known party (e.g., know "terrorists" or their family members), then their anyonymity becomes compromised.

    The authorities can probably even deduce leadership structures from the sequence of calls. If A calls B and then B immediately calls C, D, and E, we might suspect that B is a leader of a cell with D, E, and F as members. Add data on physical location (phone towers) and the authorities have even more data to map out a network and assess likely roles of unnamed people.
  • by mynameis (mother ... (745416) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:07PM (#8464784)
    We all knew they lived in their own fantasy world!

    Some of my favorite quotes:
    From both the mental image and funny-long-names-of-stuff-in-Germany file:

    1. "If you beat terrorists over the head enough, they learn," said Col. Nick Pratt, a counterterrorism expert and professor at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
    And the enjoying-that-feeling-of-absolute-superiority-over -those-you-deem-less-palatable-then-santorum file:
    1. One senior official said the authorities were grateful that Qaeda members were so loyal to Swisscom.
      Another official agreed: "They'd switch phones but use the same cards. The people were stupid enough to use the same cards all of the time. It was a very good thing for us."

    And I'm sure this one has already been posted, but...
    From both the kill-joy and tinfoil-hat/nuking-new-$20s files:
    1. "They thought these phones protected their anonymity, but they didn't," said a senior intelligence official based in Europe. Even without personal information, the authorities were able to conduct routine monitoring of phone conversations."
    Sigh...
  • Some precisions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Max von H. (19283) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:07PM (#8464786) Homepage
    This isn't new at all - we've heard about it a couple of years ago here in Switzerland. BTW, Swisscom happens to be the not-so-former telecom monopoly here, pretty big stuff, not just some random company exploiting a legal loophole. Thing is it's been possible to buy totally anonymous GSM cards here for ages (8 years or so), effectively providing you pre-paid phone number to use in any GSM phone, in and outside of Switzerland.

    For about $50 you get a SIM card that you can put in you GSM mobile. You now have a phone number and some initial credit. You can buy credit (a card with a hidden number to dial) from any news stand anytime. Never in the process does your name appear anywhere. You can even buy the cards in supermarkets.

    The question of such anonymity was raised several times, but ultimately the decision was that it wasn't possible to require personal information for such items. Since there's no contract and no bills in the system, there's no reason to ask for your name, address, etc. And there's millions of them in use already.

    Note that all operators offer such cards. It's a bit more expensive than regular price plans but damn useful if you're a traveler, want to control expenses or can't get a regular plan because of bad credit. To my knowledge, many other european countries offer such prepaid cards now... We just happened to be the first.
    • Re:Some precisions (Score:5, Informative)

      by srslif16 (588208) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:36PM (#8465181)
      You should be aware of the fact that the cell-phone itself has an ID number, EIN (Equipment Identity Number), which is stored in a database in the GSM system. Until 1999, it was rare that a GSM operator used this, but in 1999, a large db was created on Ireland. Since then, it is common to have one.

      This db is used to keep track of stolen and faulty cellphones (well, terminals, really), refusing service to those classes of equipment. However, nothing stops the operator from using this information instead of the IMSI on the SIM card for tracking purposes.

      Also, in modern GSM O&M software, it's a builtin feature: you tell the system that you wish tp keep track of all movements and calls of this IMSI number, or EIN. It's then logged to file.

      It gets even better: you can of course record when the EIN is changed; moving the SIM card then just means another EIN will be tracked (as well as the old one...), and of course the SIM-card that is next put into the phone you just monitored might get monitored too...

      It's all just a few clicks in the GUI away. Disk space is cheap. Welcome, Brave New World.
  • get ready (Score:5, Insightful)

    by happyfrogcow (708359) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:08PM (#8464793)
    alert to the phones' vulnerability, had largely abandoned them for important communications and instead were using e-mail, Internet phone calls and hand-delivered messages

    So now that technology has been shown succesfull in stopping "terrorists", and those "terrorists" have moved to email/VoIP, get ready for another push in legislature to regulate those mediums more tightly. It doesn't matter that the corporation put those chips in their products by their own will. Traditional phone companies will see a spot to shove their foot in the door and lobby their representatives to regulate the up and comming internet telephony industry in order to stiffle the competition. So there is "antiterrorism" working and corporate money working in the minds of the government. What else is new...
  • by Andy Davies (5700) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:08PM (#8464800) Homepage
    Big deal...

    This 'top secret tracking" is available to consumers and companies in the UK see:.

    http://followus.co.uk [followus.co.uk]
    http://www.fleetonline.net [fleetonline.net]

    Of course you need the phone owners permission.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:11PM (#8464842)
    The secure card IDs are registered to G. Bush, B. Bunny, and
    The modded firmware of some phones can Jam and hop Ids randomly to leech airtime. This is a real problem in some countries with mature cell nets.


    Node logs are not perfect.


    As every drug dealer busted can tell you that buying your phones in bulk and dropping them (Or purposely losing them in a public place) every 24h removes the chance of getting a tap put on in time.


    To live in Fear and Ignorance, only teaches one paranoia.

  • privacy? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Richthofen80 (412488) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:11PM (#8464846) Homepage
    a lot of people are calling this an invasion of privacy. This is hardly that.

    Al Qaedia and its operatives have been identified as enemy combatants. Effectively, there's already an international 'warrant for their arrest'.

    This technology, if had to be used in the US, would require a judge to approve a warrant for this type of information gathering. There'd have to be specific evidence that the individual was commiting a crime or likely to. Al Qaedia already falls under this category, IMHO.

    Even further, this was a COMBAT action. In other conflicts, (see: wars) this is the same as using radar to identify enemy positions based on the metal used in their vehicles, etc.

    And EVEN FURTHER, knowing where you are is essential in a cellular phone network. To forward the voice packets, the phones have to know the signal strength from your phone to the nearest towers. it figures your motion and signal degradation to determine the most likely cells to send your data to. knowing your approximate location is just a function of cellular technology.
    • Re:privacy? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Stiletto (12066) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @01:13PM (#8465663)

      And EVEN FURTHER FURTHER, you are not doing any good for a free society by parroting the right-wing "guilty until proven innocent" mentality.

      You start from the presumption that the person they are tracking is an Al Qaedia member.

      If this presumption turns out to be false, you just approved a warrent for arrest, tracked, classified as an enemy combatant, and (traveling further down your line of thought) imprisoned without trial, someone who is totally innocent.

      Congratulations!!! America is now safe from another "middle-eastern guy".
    • Re:privacy? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Qrlx (258924) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @01:32PM (#8465891) Homepage Journal
      Al Qaedia and its operatives have been identified as enemy combatants. Effectively, there's already an international 'warrant for their arrest'.

      Enemy combatant? Sorry, Interpol has never heard of that term. Nor it is anywhere in the Geneva Convention. I don't think it carries much weigh outside of a government that wants to deny rights to a broad group of individuals because doing so is far more expedient than actually honoring the Constitutional right to due process.

      Sorry, I'm not impressed by your phony rhetoric and fractured analogies.

      By the way, have you ever heard of Joseph Padilla? He's a U.S. Citizen, like you and me, and he's also an "enemy combatant." Our government feels its perfectly fine to keep him in jail forever without even charging him with a crime. How do you feel about that?

      I thought we were defending freedom, not totalitarianism.
  • law & border (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MacAndrew (463832) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:13PM (#8464875) Homepage
    this is a nice example of the parallel existence of privacy and legitimate law enforcement. note that i say parallel, not tradeoff, the latter being the superficial way the alleged "tension" between the two is described. we can have both, and stronger than they are now.

    i'd like to think i'm a decent pro-privacy civil libertarian, but i also admit getting a kick out of the law and order episodes when they so often trace someone's movements thanks to bridge tolls or telephone calls or ATM cameras or whatever. cool, hey presto and the bad guy is tagged. here, it's those bin laden cretins, no tears shed; and so it happens in real life). (the israelis once assassinated a man by detonating an explosive in his cellphone -- they waited to hear his voice and ... our methods seem gentle in comparison.)

    now we have trackable cellphones (which are becoming ubiquitous), rfid chips, red-light cameras with OCR, etc. pretty easy and non-paranoid to imagine the automated abiity to track anyone anywhere.

    there are so far as i know few constitutional problems if the data collected is publicly observable information, i.e., no expectation of privacy even if the sophistication of the technology to collect, process, and digest that information would astonish most of us (this does at least rule out Big Brother in your home). the old model was that evidence could be collected only with periodic intrusive methods like breaking down doors or inserting wiretaps, moderated by warrant and the exclusionary rule and so on. what no one expected, though, is the situation now where *unintrusive* methods continuously collect everything one might need. the fourth becomes an anachronism, and the patriot act seems quaint.

    the only answer i see, or rather the inevitable path ahead, is to intelligently moderate access to and use of the data. the constitution is only the floor, congress went much farther with the anti-wiretap law. draw the "border" between leigt investigation and fishing expeditions. frankly i don't think we can do a good job of it, but it's the only route i see ahead. all these "public eyes" can not be shut, because we *like* too many of them and even a few innocuous steps may prove to open the door wide.
    • Re:law & border (Score:4, Interesting)

      by LostCluster (625375) * on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:17PM (#8464947)
      Once the threshhold for an arrest warrent is met, such a person shouldn't be allowed to do much of anything without being arrested. They've already have been accused of some sort of crime, so the only thing left for the police to do is figure out where the person is and slap some cuffs on the person so they can hand them over to the courts.
    • Re:law & border (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Ironica (124657) <pixel AT boondock DOT org> on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:39PM (#8465228) Journal
      now we have trackable cellphones (which are becoming ubiquitous), rfid chips, red-light cameras with OCR, etc. pretty easy and non-paranoid to imagine the automated abiity to track anyone anywhere.

      True, but thankfully, in many cases, the agencies who have control of the technology are very reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement.

      A week ago, my Transportation Planning class went on a field trip, where (among other locations) we visited the Route 91 Express Lanes and the ATSAC [la.ca.us] (made famous by "The Italian Job") Control Center. Route 91 has license plate cameras and OCR equipment which identifies toll evaders when they enter the Express Lanes as well as 35 incident cameras along the 10-mile route, and ATSAC has cameras all over Los Angeles which can watch intersections and streets for incidents. *Both* agencies mentioned that law enforcement has repeatedly approached them for cooperation and information, and that they *never* allow it without a court order.

      I think the reasoning was best expressed by the engineer at ATSAC, who said that if they used their cameras for enforcement, it wouldn't be long before the cameras were routinely vandalized and smashed to bits.

      It's not about what the technology can do; it's about who controls it and what they perceive as their responsibility.
  • News.com (Score:4, Informative)

    by Eezy Bordone (645987) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:16PM (#8464931) Homepage
    Has a story on this [com.com] as well.
  • Some comment. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by S3D (745318) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:18PM (#8464959)
    Despite Swiss law about not buying SIM cards anonimously SIM cars still freely awailable for online shopper. But all this affair show that Al-Qaeda is not quite tech savvy. List of the phones on the paper ? Not encripted ? Well it's sound good :). They also didn't use smartphone with software voice scrambler, though scrambled talk also could rase suspicion. Don't know how many people scrambling them really. Not 100% sure but I think existing high-end smartphones powerful enough to produce unbreakable scrambling. Even they arn't encripted text messagess could be made practically unbreakable ...
  • by throbber (72924) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:38PM (#8465215)
    I find it intersting that this story has been published at all. And with such a wide varity of direct quotes. They basically tell any would-be naughty person using a mobile phone to change the SIM card and the phone everytime they make a phone call.

    I'm reminded of a satelite photo from the mid '80s the showed a radar picture of the Nile Delta. Why would you publicly show a picture that told everyone that you could see 30 metres underground durring the Cold War?

    Just what can 'they' really monitor if 'they' know that you know that your moble phone is monitored?
  • by CFTM (513264) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @12:41PM (#8465268)
    Doesn't this strike you as one of those things that maybe the government should not be advertising to the world? Let the idiots keep falling victim to the same blunder but who knows maybe it's just me :P
  • by ncr53c8xx (262643) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @01:41PM (#8466040) Homepage

    The loss of privacy in closed systems is very real. Most printers can be uniquely identified by certain features (invisible to the naked eye) that are created on the printouts. And I am not talking about the currency counterfeiting options. We can be sure that if email was implemented using appliances, every mail message would have a unique ID. Microsoft Office embedded a unique ID in every document it produced and that feature was only disabled due to a huge outcry by their customers. Has everyone forgotten the original P4 ID, and how it was to be used for tracking (called "authentication")? The only way to guarantee privacy is to have open systems which will ensure that a universal tracking system cannot be successfully implemented.

  • Props to the Cops (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Embedded Geek (532893) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @01:47PM (#8466108) Homepage
    While we find it amusing to see these guys tripped up by simple mistakes and paint them as inept (and, yes, I definately enjoy it), the truth isn't that simple. These guys might not be Einstein, they aren't idiots. Look at what they've been able to pull off: complex plots involving dozens of people, smuggling materials and personell over international borders, building finance networks. It's easy to harp on the mistakes of the operatives that screw up, but the fact is that these guys do a lot to avoid detection and exposure. They made one mistake that got them caught, but they do a lot of things in a competent (if ruthless) manner.

    I'm sure that the investigators who uncovered this mistake by Al Queda spent a lot of time bashing their heads on their desks as they ran into dead ends. Like most police work, this "lucky break" probably only came to light after a lot of fruitless efforts. These investigators made their luck out of a lot of legwork and late nights.

    We like to pretend that Al Queda is inept because it helps us sleep better at night. That fact is that in this case the good guys were simply better (and more persistent) at uncovering tracks than Al Queda was at concealing them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 04, 2004 @01:50PM (#8466143)
    I just bought a prepaid SIM card for 5 euro. It has a prepaid credit of 5 euro when I choose to register I get an additional prepaid credit of 10 euro.

    The mobile carriers also have the abillity to track you with the unique IMEI number of your GSM. With Software it is possible to change the IMEI of your GSM. A new SIM and an IMEI change means you are anonymous again.

    Dutch police routinely asks the Mobile Carriers for subscriber data from customers who where in the same area where a crime has been committed.
  • by frovingslosh (582462) on Thursday March 04, 2004 @02:39PM (#8466863)
    So when some of us, after plenty of good reason, don't trust our government, we're made fun of and told to put on our tin-foil hats. But when Al Qaeda is beaten even after taking precautions of using phone "chips" that they bought anonymously, we laugh at them for not being cautious enough.
  • gsm monitoring (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 04, 2004 @08:41PM (#8471268)
    Many years ago I worked for the first GSM operator in one of the countries in the middle east. We had setup the gsm network, Motorola was the overseer of the installation. All of us were Arab engineers, mostly native to the country we were setting up in. Anyway, we setup the network and were almost through with the testing phase. About a month before official start of operations (selling to the public), the Motorola project manager tells us that one of his guys will be installing equipment in the Switching Center, and that we would not be involved. At least one of us was always involved during any installation since we might have to troubleshoot later. We were in the OMC (operations and Maintenance center), and he told us that we would not have any access to this equipment. This guy later arrives with a shitload of equipment and installs it. We were explicitly told not to touch it. The only thing I and the others could tell was that it was for listening in to the GSM calls, since the very nature of GSM (TDMA, etc) makes it difficult to just use a radio scanner. Best we could figure out was where the wires came in from and went out to. Turns out they were connected to the general intelligence department of the mukhabarat (sort of like FBI). Thus the intelligence boys didn't have to listen over the wireless, they tapped straight into the switching center, leaping over the whole GSM complexities. I suspect the US, UK, et al can tap straight into GSM over-wireless. But hey, if you live in one of the "friends-of-the-US" countries, you can go straight to the center.

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