What is StingRay? And why we should be very worried

While we seem content with the fact that consumer privacy is supreme and wiretapping is a preposterous crime, recent revelations suggest phone users in UK have been given all ears by unsolicited listeners for several years without warning.

A recent survey by Sky News on cell phone towers across the country revealed at least twenty instances where such towers were mere garbs for StingRays which were prowling silently on hapless citizens.

StringRays are box-like structures placed in tall towers whose functioning is very similar to cell phone towers. They send out signals exactly like cell phone towers, and which are detected by cellphones in the area where they are placed.

Once the signal is detected by a phone, it gets connected with the StingRay which then proceeds to collect data like device information, subscriber details, call durations and frequencies as well as recording live calls. There is no way for you to know that you are being monitored unless you run a particular software that can identify StingRays, which Sky News did.

StingRays are used extensively by Police forces in the United States and, to an extent, in the UK. The data collected from these devices help the enforcement authorities to keep a check on radical elements within the general public and to single out bits of information that could place public safety at risk.

Apart from the safety check, what bothers us in general is that they are being used to monitor our calls without our express consent. No matter what we talk about in our phone conversations with our friends and colleagues, the fact that someone else is storing every word we utter is unnerving at best.

The police maintains that the less they talk about StingRays, the better it is for all involved. Bernard Hogan-Howe, Met Commissioner, said, "We're not going to talk about it, because the only people who benefit are the other side, and I see no reason in giving away that sort of thing."

Individual privacy, once considered supreme, is now free to be juggled with in terms of the threat perception of our government. While we may create quite a fuss about our calls being recorded, it seems StingRays will be watching us for a very long time.

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