Senator questions DHS about surveillance technology used in U.S. by foreign spies

A Senator is asking for the agency to provide information about foreign surveillance on U.S. soil.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is requesting information from the Department of Homeland Security concerning the use of foreign cell phone surveillance devices in the U.S., according a letter posted Monday to the Senator’s website.

Wyden’s inquiry specifically looks at issues surrounding the use of IMSI catchers, also known as international mobile subscriber identity collectors. An IMSI catcher is an inexpensive spying tool that can essentially act as a fake cell phone tower to intercept calls, text messages and other location information that normally emits from mobile phones.

The letter, dated Nov. 17, asks Christopher Krebs, an acting DHS undersecretary, if the agency is aware of foreign-operated IMSI catchers in the Washington, D.C. area or in other major cities.

“I am very concerned by this threat and urge the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to improve its efforts to detect such activity,” Wyden writes. “Foreign government surveillance of senior American political and business leaders would obviously pose a significant threat to our country’s national and economic security.”


Wyden’s office declined to provide further comment beyond the letter. The request cites a Federal Communications Commission task force created in 2014 to investigate the unauthorized use of IMSI catchers, which Wyden says never presented substantial findings.

A DHS spokesperson declined to comment on Wyden’s letter, citing the agency’s policy to not discuss correspondence with congressional offices.

Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has expressed concern about IMSI catchers before. In August, he co-authored a biparsitan letter to the Department of Justice asking it to review law enforcement agencies’ use of IMSI catchers and the potential interference the devices could cause on cellular networks and emergency calls.

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