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There is a new device used to spy on us called the Stingray or “cell site simulator” or the “IMSI catcher.” This device masquerades as a miniature cell phone tower and can bounce off of any cell phones within it’s reach to give the user or the agency that is doing the monitoring all of the personal information on anyone with a cell phone. This person with the cell phone can be either targeted or not targeted. When in use against a targeted individual or suspect, the Stingray can also capture personal data from all other cell phones in the vicinity; this is called a “tower dump.”
There are indications that the Stingray is being used to collect personal data without probable cause and without issuing warrants. This brings up important legal ramifications; does the use of the Stingray device violate someone’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the Constitution?
Who Has Stingray Devices?
Many law enforcement agencies across the country use these devices, but the details on exactly which has them are murky as are details on their use. These devices can cost local police or sheriff departments up to $400,000 each and are purchased through the Harris Corporation of Melbourne, Florida. The Federal Government makes it easier to fund these purchases through anti-terrorism grants and is said to have been routinely used since 2007; perhaps earlier.
Stingray And The Law?
When media has asked for more information or filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the agencies using the Stingray hide behind non-disclosure agreements.
According to the Associated press (AP), David Cuillier, the director of the University of Arizona’s journalism school and a national expert on public-records laws said:
“I don’t see how public agencies can make up an agreement with a private company that breaks state law. We can’t have the commercial sector running our governments for us. These public agencies need to be forthright and transparent.”
It is suspected that since there is not a lot of information on their use that the Stingrays are first and foremost used to apprehend a suspect. Nathan Wessler, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney said:
“If police departments are going to use this kind of powerful surveillance technology, they need clear rules in place so they aren’t collecting private information.”
Wessler also noted the rules on Stingray use should be in accordance with the Constitution.
The ACLU is continuing to make the case for citizen’s rights under the law and is attempting to acquire more information on these devices and how they are used.