House Panel Says Stingrays Need Federal Guidelines
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. "While law enforcement agencies should be able to utilize technology as a tool to help officers be safe and accomplish their missions, absent proper oversight and safeguards, the domestic use of cell-site simulators may well infringe upon the constitutional rights of citizens to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as the right to free association," said the report in part. The panel's investigation revealed that the Department of Justice has 310 stingrays and the Department of Homeland Security has 124. The combined costs of operating the stingrays totaled $95 million between 2010 and 2014. The panel says congress should pass laws to "establish a clear, nationwide framework for when and how geolocation information can be accessed and used" and the DOJ and DHS should offer funding to state and local law enforcement agencies as long as those agencies agree to proper use of the stingrays. In particular, the panel wants law enforcement to clearly spell out to the court when cell-site simulators are to be used, and for what purpose. Stingrays mimic the behavior of cell towers and force all cellphones in range to connect to them and share location and other data. Though they are generally used to seek out specific active phones, they sweep up cell phone data of every device in the area.
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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.