Two bills currently making their way through the California legislature would limit the use of “stingray” cell phone surveillance by law enforcement. Both bills (SB178 and SB741) were recently unanimously passed out of Assembly committees.
Senate Bill 178, introduced in February by California Senators Mark Leno (D) and Joel Anderson (R), would “prohibit a government entity from compelling the production of or access to electronic communication information or electronic device information without a search warrant, a wiretap order, or an order for electronic reader records.” The bill would also require a warrant before using a cell site simulator, commonly known as a “Stingray”. Under the bill, information collected without consent must be destroyed within 90 days, and law enforcement cannot gather more information than is necessary to achieve the objective of the search.
“THE STINGRAY IS A BRAND NAME OF AN IMSI (INTERNATIONAL MOBILE SUBSCRIBER IDENTITY) CATCHER TARGETED AND SOLD TO LAW ENFORCEMENT.
A STINGRAY WORKS BY MASQUERADING AS A CELL PHONE TOWER—TO WHICH YOUR MOBILE PHONE SENDS SIGNALS TO EVERY 7 TO 15 SECONDS WHETHER YOU ARE ON A CALL OR NOT— AND TRICKS YOUR PHONE INTO CONNECTING TO IT. AS A RESULT, THE GOVERNMENT CAN FIGURE OUT WHO, WHEN AND TO WHERE YOU ARE CALLING, THE PRECISE LOCATION OF EVERY DEVICE WITHIN THE RANGE, AND WITH SOME DEVICES, EVEN CAPTURE THE CONTENT OF YOUR CONVERSATIONS.”
Police officers can use the devices to track your cellphones signal. Once the signal is located the stingray can provide a general location on the map and police officers can drive around (or in one case, walk door to door) until they get a signal from your phone. This has civil liberties advocates up in arms over the potential for misuse of the tools.
The Tenth Amendment Center reports that “representatives from a number of big tech firms including Facebook. Google, Lyft and Tech Freedom” came to support SB 178. According to the Tenth Amendment Center:
“Sen. Jerry Hill, Sen. Joel Anderson and Sen. Mark Leno introduced SB741 earlier this year. The bill would prohibit a local agency from acquiring or using a stingray device unless “approved by a resolution or ordinance adopted by its legislative body at a regularly scheduled public meeting where the public has a reasonable opportunity to comment.”
The bill also requires the resolution or ordinance to set forth policies on stingray use based on specific guidelines outlined in the legislation.
The Committee on Local Government passed SB741 9-0 on Wednesday. It now moves on to the Committee on Appropriations, where it will be considered after the summer break in mid-August.”
Both bills will be considered by the appropriate committees before facing a full vote in the California State Senate. A similar bill was passed in Washington earlier this year. A number of police departments around the country are now facing questions and criticism as the public has slowly learned about the devices.
For the last decade local police across the nation have been purchasing and training in the use of Stingrays. TruthInMedia has written extensively on how the devices are being used to track suspected criminals while largely operating without oversight from local, state, or federal authorities. Exactly how the devices operate and what data they collect and/or save has been unknown because a vast amount of secrecy surrounding the tools.
Both the Harris Corporation that manufactures the StingRay and the Federal Bureau of Investigations require police to sign non-disclosure agreements related to the use of the devices. Through these NDAs local police departments have become subordinate to Harris and even in court cases in front of a judge, are not allowed to speak on the details of their arrangements.
For more information check out this Guide to Stingray Technology.