Privacy Law

Justice Department to review federal use of stingray devices

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The U.S. Justice Department is reviewing use of stingray devices by federal agencies and will reveal more information about why the devices are used, according to a published report.

The stingray devices, also known by the names “hailstorm” and “dirtbox,” mimic cellphone towers to scan possibly thousands of cellphones and look for suspects, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports. Often law enforcement officials don’t get warrants before using stingrays, though the FBI has recently begun doing so.

A Justice spokesman told the newspaper that the department is “examining its policies to ensure they reflect the Department’s continuing commitment to conducting its vital missions while according appropriate respect for privacy and civil liberties.”

The U.S. Marshals Service has a fleet of planes equipped with stingrays to hunt for fugitives.

In Baltimore, police have used stingray devices more than 4,300 times since 2007. A judge ruled last month that information from a stingray could be used in a murder trial. Police used the stingray, without obtaining a court order, to trace the homicide victim’s cellphone to the home of the suspect.

Often the first step in a stingray hunt is to ask a cellphone provider to reveal the last known location of a suspect’s phone, the Wall Street Journal explains. Some police departments are using an “emergency” exception to obtain the information.

See also:

ABA Journal: “Law enforcement’s latest highway tech speeds up info-gathering, but critics say it violates privacy”

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