Privacy Law

Police increasingly using stingray cellphone tracking technology to solve routine crimes

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Law enforcement officials from coast to coast are secretly using cellphone tracking technology to solve routine crimes.

Such devices, commonly known as stingrays, are owned by dozens of police departments from Baltimore to Los Angeles, USA Today reports.

However, the use of such technology is often concealed from suspects and their lawyers, and even in some cases from prosecutors and judges, according to USA Today.

The suitcase-sized tracking devices, which can cost as much as $400,000, impersonate a cell tower, allowing law enforcement officials to obtain all sorts of data from a cellphone without the user’s knowledge. They do not intercept the content of any communications.

USA Today says it has identified more than 35 police departments that own such devices. It says the American Civil Liberties Union has located 18 more.

But when and how the devices are being used is largely a mystery, USA Today says, in part because the FBI requires police departments to sign nondisclosure agreements that prohibit them from revealing how the technology works.

As the technology becomes more commonplace, some states have taken steps to limit its use. Congress is also considering legislation that would require police to get a search warrant before a stingray can be used.

See also: “Justice Department to review federal use of stingray devices”

The Register: “ACLU files new lawsuits in hunt for police ‘Stingray’ mobe-trackers”

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

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