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Senators Want FCC to Investigate, Regulate Stingrays

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Oct 6, 2016, 3:15 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

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. Police departments use stingrays to search for known criminals' phones in order to locate them, but the stingrays don't take information from just specific phones — they scan all phones in range, including phones of innocent people. The lawmakers argue that stingrays force cell phones to abandon connections to legit cell towers when stingrays are in range, during which time those phones are unable to make 911 or other calls. This endangers the public, suggest the senators. Moreover, a study produced earlier this year highlighted how stingrays were disproportionately used in poor neighborhoods with large minority populations. "We are particularly concerned about allegations that cell site simulators — commonly referred to as 'stingrays' — disrupt cellular service and may interfere with calls for emergency assistance, and that the manner in which cell site simulators are used may disproportionately impact communities of color. While we appreciate law enforcement's need to locate and track dangerous suspects, the use of stingray devices should not come at the expense of innocent Americans' privacy and safety, nor should law enforcement's use of the devices disrupt ordinary consumers' ability to communicate," said Sen. Al Franken and others in a letter to the FCC. They want the FCC to provide a clear explanation of how stingrays interfere with the phones of innocent people, as well as explore options for regulating and/or licensing their use.


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