Privacy Law

Feds use little-known StingRay device to track cellphones; is a warrant required?

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The device is called a StingRay, and it mimics cellphone towers to connect with wireless phones, enabling authorities to track suspects. It is now at the center of a legal battle as lawyers argue the federal government is using the technology without the proper authority.

Use of the StingRays raises two legal issues, according to the Washington Post. The first is whether police use of the device is a Fourth Amendment search requiring a warrant. The second is whether the federal government is failing to disclose enough information about its use of the technology when it seeks court permission to monitor suspects.

Justice Department officials have previously asserted that devices such as StingRays are pen registers that require a lesser pen register application, the Wall Street Journal reported in a September 2011 story. The case profiled in the story is being argued today in a federal courtroom in Arizona.

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have submitted an amicus brief on behalf of defendant Daniel Rigmaiden, who is accused of tax fraud and identity theft. The lawyers will argue today that a judge wasn’t fully informed about plans to use the device and evidence obtained should be suppressed.

The Justice Department counters that the defendant has no standing to complain about a Fourth Amendment violation because he used a pseudonym to obtain his wireless device, CNet reports in its story on the case.

According to the story by CNet, “Civil libertarians are hoping the Rigmaiden case will be the first in the nation to impose privacy limits on how police use stingrays, in much the same way that previous legal challenges have resulted in curbs on warrantless use of thermal imaging devices and GPS tracking of vehicles through physical bugs.”

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