It is estimated that at least 42 law enforcement agencies across 17 states use controversial Stingray tracking and surveillance devices. Although they are often depicted mimicking cell towers, these devices can be placed anywhere and intercept cell phone tracking data without the user’s knowledge. In some cases they can shut the service down. Usage of Stingrays slipped in virtually unnoticed under Department of Homeland Security grants to local law enforcement with the expressed intention of fighting terrorism. As you may have guessed, these devices were sometimes turned on American citizens in run-of-the-mill investigations. Many judges were said to have been tricked into signing warrants for their use under different terminology.
Civil liberties groups like the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation have heartily protested the use of Stingrays for their potential and proven track record for abuse. EFF has called the use of Stingrays an “all you can eat data buffet.” For good reason too – just this summer, documents revealed that the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department may have used the device over 300 times in a year and a half’s time. But Baltimore’s law enforcement leads the charge quite possibly using the devices thousands of times.
The Baltimore Sun reports:
A Baltimore defense attorney has filed the first of what could be hundreds of challenges to cases in which police allegedly withheld that they had used a high-tech phone tracking device to gather evidence.
The attorney, Joshua Insley, had questioned last fall whether the surveillance equipment known as a stingray was used in the case against his client, Shemar Taylor, who was accused of stealing a cellphone.
Prosecutors and police at the time denied that investigators had used a stingray, but on the witness stand a detective refused to answer questions about what technology they did use. The judge threatened to hold the detective in contempt when he cited a confidentiality agreement with the federal government and refused to answer the judge’s questions.
Judges such as the one in Baltimore are declaring that the courtroom doesn’t recognize non-disclosures with the FBI, which has been found to encourage withholding Stingray use. In other words, no pleading the fifth where mass Constitutional violations have occurred and possible perjury. It seems as though some judges are not keen on misrepresentations of warrants.
The crux of the matter is not about making it harder for law enforcement to track kidnappers, of course. Those are the “exigent” circumstances that they promised to use them for. The right to use the devices with warrants has been upheld. But practices like the secret use en masse, such as Stingray planes stalking protesters and possibly tracking them without knowledge, is increasingly drawing ire. Even prosecutors and judges are showing anger at the discoveries of Stingray use because what they don’t know can come back to haunt them. They consider the shrouding of Stingray use a “willful misrepresentation.” i.e., a lie!
News of these new legal challenges surfaced one day after it was announced that the Department of Justice is now requiring law enforcement and other agencies to obtain a warrant before using Stingrays.
Will these legal challenges unearth more instances of the secret use of Stingrays on American citizens?