We’ve talked about the secretive Stingray devices several times on crimcourts, and I’ve even talked about them on local TV. Stingrays are devices that mimic cell phone towers and can allow law enforcement to secretly collect cell phone data. The problem is, without a warrant, they can be used to unconstitutionally invade people’s privacy and to collect overbroad types of data from innocent citizens. It’s a clear violation of the constitutional prohibition on unreasonable searches.
On the pair of shows of the fictional New York police precinct “Brooklyn 99” which aired last night, the officers of the 99th precinct discover the new NYPD police commissioner has started using a Stingray to illegally collect data. The good guys set up a sting operation to bust the commissioner and end the illegal data collection program- a Stingray-sting! Hijinks ensue, but I won’t spoil the outcome for those who haven’t seen it. Nonetheless, it’s impressive that a comedy show used a hot button topic as the basis for an episode.
NBC-2 posted the story online that included my interview about the use of cell-phone tower imitators, that go by the brand name of Stingrays, and how they are being used to collect people’s data. There are still a lot of questions about the use of these devices, in part because the government is being so secretive about it. In many cases, their use can be legal, but they should definitely implement oversight, and get oversight from the courts by seeking warrants when they are being used.
For more in the issue, USA Today has been following the issue, and has a section devoted to it, here: http://www.usatoday.com/topic/f764896f-76b5-4789-a58e-e333b9b5bcfc/cellphone-surveillance/
And here is the NBC-2 story from last night: http://www.nbc-2.com/story/34124137/cell-phone-interceptors-used-by-govt-agency-to-gather-information
Attorney Spencer Cordell
This week the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a bipartisan report calling for standards on how cell-phone tower simulators, known as Stingrays, are used by government agencies. We don’t know how extensively they are being used, or even how much data they are able to collect: not just from criminals, but from average citizens whose phones get caught up. We do know there have been abuses in the past.
NBC-2 is doing a story tonight, and I may show up with some comments. The Stingray, and the secrecy around the agencies’ use of the technology is troubling. There are legal means to use technology, the most straightforward is just to get a warrant. We encourage standards and oversight, especially in Florida, which leads the country in Stingray use.
Tune in to NBC-2 tonight at 6 p.m.
This week a federal court ruled that evidence collected by use of a Stingray was inadmissible where a warrant was not obtained. Stingrays are devices that mimic cell phone towers. They allow government agents to track the whereabouts of cell phones without the knowledge of the cell phone users. It is unknown how many agencies employ the use of Stingrays, because they also promise to keep them secret when they acquire them.
The DOJ issued a policy that their agents are supposed to get warrants before using the devices. That was a smart move, predicting the legal outcome when the Stingray evidence was challenged. This investigation occurred before that change in policy, and if the Feds had continued to collect this evidence without warrants… a lot more cases would be in Jeopardy. The DOJ policy does not govern local law enforcement agencies, who stand to have a lot of evidence in jeopardy if they have not been obtaining warrants, in light of this Federal Court decision.