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Warrant Required for Stingray Use in Washington

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May 12, 2015, 2:17 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Washington Governor Jay Inslee today signed a bill mandating that law enforcement obtain a warrant before using stingray devices within the state's borders. The law, which goes into effect immediately, is one of the strongest in the country as it requires police to describe how the stingray will be used to collect data. Stingrays work by mimicking cell towers and tricking cell phones into sharing their location information, as well as call and messaging logs. The FBI had been hoping to keep the details of how stingrays work secret, but Washington's law threatens to expose that information. Stingrays can be used from airplanes to sweep large areas as well as from police cars to dial in specific location coordinates. Though law enforcement uses them to find specific phones and/or people, the stingrays collect data from every phone in range, which many see as a violation of privacy. "The language ... in the Washington bill is significant because it aims to minimize the detrimental impact on bystanders," said the ACLU's Nathan Wessler to Ars Technica. The Justice Dept. said earlier this month it plans to review how stingrays are used, but did not say it would end their use entirely.

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