FBI Gathers Cell Phone Data Using Spy Planes Over US Cities

Brandon Snively
Brandon is a Pace University graduate and avid Philadelphia sports fan, but don't hate him because of it...please? He was a former intern at the Howard Stern Show as well as a reporter for the MTA program Transit Transit Newsmagazine. He likes to be in front of the camera or behind the mic, but he enjoys news writing just as much.

The Associated Press revealed that low flying planes in several major US cities are equipped with video and, in ‘rare’ cases, some with cell phone gathering technology. The investigation found that in a recent 30 day period, the planes flew over 30 cities in 11 states. Although it is no secret that FBI aviation program exists, it’s the way the FBI conducted it that makes people scratch their heads.

Getting down to the facts – the FBI uses a small plane called Cessna’s. These are small propeller aircrafts that are commonly used for student pilot trainings and short distance leisure flights. However, those are no students flying those specific planes. Why? Simply because they are equipped with video cameras and antennas out of the body of the aircraft. The video cameras are used for surveillance purposes and were recently used in Baltimore during the Freddie Gray protests. Occasionally, they will also pick up cell phone data as well, even if the phone is not in use.

As technology develops, so will methods of collecting data and surveillance on citizens. As more information is released about these tactics, there is a call for an update to protect civil liberties in the midst of new methods to spy.

Flight patterns don’t just happen. They are planned, tracked, and archived. According to Flightradar24.com, the flight patterns of these spy planes over domestic cities were in perfect Olympic ring circles. In standard aviation, that is a sign for an emergency landing while dumping fuel. In this particular situation, however, the planes were only conducting surveillance.

Why should this matter to me, you ask? It’s pretty obvious that everyone likes to have their privacy, but in this day and age it’s more difficult than in previous years, especially with social media and government plans for civilian protection. However, it still can strike a nerve.

According to the AP, the FBI was actually operating these aircraft under fake company names such as KQM Aviation and PXW Services. The FBI asked the Associated Press not to disclose the names of the fake companies it uncovered, saying that would saddle taxpayers with the expense of creating new cover companies to shield the government’s involvement, and could endanger the planes and integrity of the surveillance missions. The AP declined the FBI’s request because the companies’ names – as well as common addresses linked to the Justice Department – are listed on public documents and in government databases.


Image Source: Washington Post