Secret Cellular Surveillance of Anaheim, CA

by Vins
Published: Updated:

On January 17th, 2016, Matt Cagel writing for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU) published “Dirtbox Over Disneyland? New Docs Reveal Anaheim’s Cellular Surveillance Arsenal”. Cagels’s article focused on the topic of cellular surveillance equipment being used to spy on citizens. The topic of mass cellular surveillance is significant because it raises questions about potential violations of citizens’ 4th Amendment rights, and how this information will be used in court. Since April of 2015, the corporate press has both ignored and under-covered the story of “Dirtbox Over Disneyland? New Docs Reveal Anaheim’s Cellular Surveillance Arsenal” but the independent news outlets did a fair job of covering this story with both truth and consistency.

Cagels’s article focused on the United States (U.S.) government’s cell phone surveillance program that has covered the Orange County area, including Disneyland since 2009. The devices used to spy on cellular activities include a suitcase sized equipment called a Stingray, a hand held equipment, and the Dirtbox (a military grade piece of equipment thought to be used only in two cities). The three million citizens of Orange County and the 16 million yearly Disneyland visitors are being surveilled every year. Cagle ends his article by stating it is time for reform and that the ACLU is excited to participate in them.
One of the biggest problems with this type of program is it may be used for “parallel construction”, meaning the surveillance equipment used can be supplemental information to start private investigations and be used against US citizens as evidence in court, as previously documented by Ryan Gallagher in The Intercept. Parallel construction has already contributed to many cases, such as the 2008 case of Thailand versus the Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout. In 2011, Bout was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Similarly, Project Synergy (a case against manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers of synthetic designer drugs) resulted in the arrest of 227 people across 35 states in America.

There has been very limited corporate coverage of the surveillance that has plagued Orange County for the past few years. The only relevant corporate coverage was reported in December, 2014 by a local ABC affiliate. This story is vastly different than the ACLU’s recent publication. The ABC report focused only on Stingray, which is just one out of at least three known types of surveillance equipment in use. The ABC report neglected to address the extent of the spying locally, including the Orange County city’s that surround Disneyland. Perhaps this is due to the corporate connections between ABC and Disney, which is the network’s parent company.

In conclusion, the cellular surveillance of citizens continues to raise questions about potential violations of the rights of American citizens. Although mass cellular surveillance has affected over 19 million people in the Orange County area, including Disneyland, corporate press outlets did not cover this story after April 1, 2015, and even then, only one story was released.


Matt Cagle, “Dirtbox Over Disneyland? New Docs Reveal Anaheim’s Cellular Surveillance Arsenal,” American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, January 27, 2016,

Student Researchers: Pamela Switzer (California State University, Maritime Academy) and Joshua Gorski (Diablo Valley College)

Faculty Evaluator: Nolan Higdon (California State University, Maritime Academy)