Judge Says Law Enforcement Needs Warrant to Use Stingrays
A federal judge has tossed evidence discovered by Drug Enforcement Administration officers after they used a Stingray to locate a suspect without a warrant. The case involves a drug trafficking ring in New York City. Government agents obtained a warrant during the 2015 investigation for records of phone numbers dialed by the suspect, as well as the cell towers to which the suspect's phone regularly connected. Cell phone towers provide general, but imprecise, location data. The DEA then used a Stingray, which mimics cell towers, to trick the suspect's phone into giving away its precise location. Once located in an apartment building, DEA agents entered the suspect's home and seized evidence. Judge William H. Pauley III of the Federal District Court said the the Stingray's use amounted to a Fourth Amendment search. "Absent a search warrant, the government may not turn a citizen's cellphone into a tracking device," said Pauley in his decision. The judge noted the DEA could have applied for a warrant to use the Stingray, but chose not to. The ACLU was quite to praise the decision. "A federal court has finally held the authorities to account. [The decision] strongly reinforces the strength of our constitutional privacy rights in the digital age." The Justice Department decided in September 2015 — after the search in this particular case took place — to require warrants for future Stingray use. Judge Pauley's decision will likely impact cases around the country wherein law enforcement used Stingrays to locate suspects without warrants.
Oct 6, 2016
A number of senators have asked the FCC to look into law enforcement's use of stingrays to see if the tool puts the public at risk, and also to see if stingrays unfairly target minority groups. Stingrays masquerade as cell towers in order to collect location and other data from phones in a given area.
Nov 17, 2017
Moving forward, New York law enforcement agencies will need to go before a judge and obtain an eavesdropping warrant if they wish to use stingrays to track suspects' cellphones. Stingrays spoof cell towers and fool cell phones into connecting with them.
Dec 20, 2016
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, a bipartisan panel, this week recommended that the federal government pass rules to manage the use stingrays and other cell-site simulating devices. The panel said in a report that law enforcement agencies have varying and inconsistent rules for the use of such devices.
Apr 3, 2018
The Department of Homeland Security today said it has encountered cell site simulators being used in Washington, D.C., in what appears to be an effort to spy on Americans. The agency acknowledged the use of Stingrays, though it didn't say what type of devices they were, who was using them, how many were detected, nor where the devices were being put to use.
Jun 5, 2017
The Supreme Court today said it will hear a case regarding whether or not law enforcement can access certain types of cell location data without a warrant. As it stands today, the government does not need to get a warrant when seeking location and other information held by phone companies.