Judge Says Law Enforcement Needs Warrant to Use Stingrays
Jul 13, 2016, 7:33 AM by Eric M. Zeman
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.
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