Tag Archives: Cellphone Tracking

Justice Department Will Require Warrants For Some Cellphone Tracking Technology

The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Thursday that it will now require U.S. prosecutors and some federal law enforcement agencies to obtain a search warrant in order to use cellphone tracking technology.

In a statement, the DoJ said that the new policy “goes into effect immediately” and will “provide department components with standard guidance for the use of cell-site simulators in the department’s domestic criminal investigations,” and “establish new management controls for the use of the technology.”

Before the change in policy, U.S. government agencies were permitted to use cell-site simulators or “stingray” devices to replicate phone towers in order to track a phone’s location without applying for a warrant or giving probable cause.

[RELATED: A Guide To Stingray Cellphone Surveillance Technology]

Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates claimed that the stingray devices have been “instrumental in aiding law enforcement in a broad array of investigations, including kidnappings, fugitive investigations and complicated narcotics cases.”  

“This new policy ensures our protocols for this technology are consistent, well-managed and respectful of individuals’ privacy and civil liberties,” Yates said.

[RELATED: Newly Released ‘Stingray’ Manual Shows Company Asked FCC For Secrecy]

The DoJ stated that the new policy will establish a set of required practices for dealing with the data collected by the cell-site simulators, which includes deleting all data from a device “as soon as that device is located, and no less than once daily.”

The policy also lays out guidelines for the type of content that may be collected, and it prohibits the collection “contents of any communication in the course of criminal investigations,” such as emails, texts, contact information and pictures.

[RELATED: Chicago, L.A. Police Using ‘Stingray’ Surveillance Capable Of Breaking Encryption]

Cell-site simulator devices have been criticized by privacy advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union for the frequency in which they are used by law enforcement, the amount of data they pick up on innocent bystanders, and the secrecy surrounding their use.

Reuters noted that the new policy does not apply to agencies outside of the DoJ, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency.

Washington State Now Requires Police Obtain Warrants For Stingray Surveillance

On Monday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill into law that requires police officers obtain warrants from a judge stating that there is probable cause that the use of a cell site simulator device, or “Stingray,” will lead to evidence of criminal activity.

The News Tribune in Tacoma reported that when police obtain a warrant from a judge to use a stingray device, they must “disclose the use of the device” and must “discard cellphone data from people who are not the specific target of a police investigation.”

Ars Technica noted that while Washington’s law is not the first of its kind in the US, and there are similar laws in Virginia, Minnesota and Utah, Washington’s law may have the most stringent requirements, because it “imposes extra requirements that compel police to describe the technology and its impact in detail to judges.

As previously reported by Truth in Media’s Derrick Broze, as long as a cellphone is on, it can be tracked by a Stingray device, even if it is not making or receiving a call. Broze noted that police officers are “likely bringing them to large protests to gather data on those in attendance.”

Broze also noted that Stingrays can be handheld or vehicle-based, and that they extract data from cellphones “at full signal, consuming battery faster,” which might mean that a “constantly dying battery could be a sign that you are being tracked.”

In Aug. 2014, The News Tribune revealed that the Tacoma Police Department has had a Stingray device since 2008, and has used it hundreds of times to find criminal suspects, “without telling judges about its capabilities.”

Jared Friend, the director of the Technology and Liberty program at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office, released a statement calling Stingrays “emblematic of the threats to privacy posed by new technologies and expanding government surveillance activities” and saying that with this new law, Washington state has become a “leader in regulating these invasive devices.”

“Around the country, local police departments and the FBI have engaged in a campaign to conceal the use of cell site simulators from judges and from the public,” Friend said. “These devices epitomize the continuing militarization of local law enforcement and should not be free from judicial and public scrutiny.”