Apple’s anti-snitching technology could frustrate police

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Stingrays mimic cell towers, and are used by both criminals and police.
Stingrays mimic cell towers, and are used by both criminals and police.
Photo: Miguel Á. Padriñán/Pexels CC

Apple wants to use encryptions to make “stingray” phone spying tools obsolete. The move is likely to be controversial because while these are used by criminals they are also employed by police.

Stingrays 101

A stingray — also called an IMSI catcher — pretends to be a cell tower. These devices trick a target’s phone into connecting instead of a real cell tower, then monitor traffic that passes between the phone and the network. 

They can be used to determine a user’s exact location, as well as what numbers are dialed. Some can listen in on phone calls. 

Stingrays are used by the FBI and DEA, as well as local law-enforcement agencies. That are also employed by police in the UK and many other countries.

And, of course, they are also used by criminals.

Apple to the rescue

Apple has patented a method of encrypting the data that travels between cell towers and phones, according to Britain’s Telegraph.  This would prevent anyone from discovering the IMSI (international mobile subscriber identity) number for mobile devices, making tracking them much harder.

Whether this proposed tech will actually go into use is unknown. Companies frequently patent ideas that never reach fruition.