Federal Appeals Court Rules “Stingray” Surveillance Does Not Require Warrant

stingray-use-unconstitutionalBy Derrick Broze

On Tuesday a federal appeals court with jurisdiction in Virginia and Maryland ruled that police do not need a search warrant to obtain cell tower location information using ‘Stingray’ surveillance devices.

In a vote of 12 to 3 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit has ruled that police can legally gather “cell site” location information (CSLI) without judicial approval via a search warrant. The 4th Circuit made the ruling based on rules implemented before the growth of cellphones and computers which allow law enforcement to collect business or “third party” records without a court order. The rules were originally intended to govern banking transactions and phone calls made by a traditional landline.

Writing for the majority opinion, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz said the Supreme Court could eliminate the third-party doctrine at a future date and Congress could require a warrant for CSLI, “but without a change in controlling law, we cannot conclude that the Government violated the Fourth Amendment in this case.” Motz also stated that overturning the ruling would conflict with recent rulings by federal appellate courts in Florida and Cincinnati, New Orleans and Philadelphia.

The judgement relates to two Maryland men, Aaron Graham and Eric Jordan, who were convicted of armed robberies in Baltimore. Both men were under investigation for seven months. During that time period police investigators gathered evidence using cell site simulators, also known by the name Stingrays. Stingrays are the brand name of a popular cell-site simulator manufactured by the Harris Corporation.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation describes Stingrays as “a brand name of an IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) Catcher targeted and sold to law enforcement. A Stingray works by masquerading as a cell phone tower – to which your mobile phone sends signals to every 7 to 15 seconds whether you are on a call or not – and tricks your phone into connecting to it.” As a result, whoever is in possession of the Stingray can figure out who, when, and to where you are calling, the precise location of every device within the range, and with some devices, even capture the content of your conversations.

Graham and Jordan’s attorneys argued that the use of cell site simulators amounted to dragnet surveillance because police were able to gather sensitive data about their lives, thus violating the Fourth Amendment right “of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches.”

The three dissenting judges called the majority decision a dangerous expansion of the third-party doctrine. Judge James A. Wynn stated that “the Fourth Amendment, necessarily, is in retreat.” The Washington Post reports that Wynn stated that CSLI is different from other types of data because phone users do not “voluntarily convey” the information and are likely unaware they are providing local cell towers with sensitive data that can be scooped up by law enforcement.

“I suppose we can also expect no privacy in data transmitted by networked devices such as the ‘Fitbit’ bracelet, which ‘can track the steps you take in a day, calories burned, and minutes asleep,’” Wynn said in a footnote discussing the popular device that can track an individual’s temperature, and heart and breathing rates.

The decision by the 4th Circuit overturns a ruling from August 2015 which found that accessing cell site information without a warrant was unconstitutional because law enforcement are able to gather sensitive data, including a person’s daily routine in both public and private spaces.

“Because months’ worth of cell phone location data can reveal extraordinarily private details of a person’s life, the right way to protect people’s privacy interest in that information is to require a warrant,” said Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “The Fourth Circuit’s decision is not the last word on this issue. Other appellate courts will surely address these questions soon, and the Supreme Court may well need to weigh in.”

The ruling is likely to make its way to the Supreme Court as local, state, and federal officials grapple with the rise of invasive technology that is slowly eroding the concept of privacy. On May 18, Illinois passed Senate Bill 2343 which forces police to obtain “a court order based on probable cause that a person whose location information is sought has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime, is required for any permitted use” before using a Stingray or similar surveillance device.

Both the Harris Corp. and the Federal Bureau of Investigations require police to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDA) related to the use of the devices. Through these NDAs local police departments have become subordinate to Harris, and even in court cases in front of a judge, are not allowed to speak on the details of their arrangements. This has created a dangerous precedent which allows law enforcement on the local, state, and federal level to operate the devices with impunity. Americans remain largely ignorant to the fact that numerous agencies are gathering their private information without a warrant.

Follow this link for more information on the Stingrays.

Image Credit: TheFreeThoughtProject.com

Derrick Broze is an investigative journalist and liberty activist. He is the Lead Investigative Reporter for ActivistPost.com and the founder of the TheConsciousResistance.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Derrick is available for interviews.

This article may be freely reposted in part or in full with author attribution and source link.

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3 Comments on "Federal Appeals Court Rules “Stingray” Surveillance Does Not Require Warrant"

  1. y3shuA imMANu3l | June 2, 2016 at 5:37 pm | Reply

    Isaiah 2:
    8 Their land is also full of idols;
    They worship the work of their own hands,
    That which their own fingers have made.
    9 People bow down,
    And each man humbles himself;
    Therefore do not forgive them.
    10 Enter into the rock, and hide in the dust,
    From the terror of the Lord
    And the glory of His majesty.
    11 The lofty looks of man shall be humbled,
    The haughtiness of men shall be bowed down,
    And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.
    12 For the day of the Lord of hosts
    Shall come upon everything proud and lofty,
    Upon everything lifted up—
    And it shall be brought low—
    13 Upon all the cedars of Lebanon that are high and lifted up,
    And upon all the oaks of Bashan;
    14 Upon all the high mountains,
    And upon all the hills that are lifted up;
    15 Upon every high tower,
    And upon every fortified wall;
    16 Upon all the ships of Tarshish,
    And upon all the beautiful sloops.
    17 The loftiness of man shall be bowed down,
    And the haughtiness of men shall be brought low;
    The Lord alone will be exalted in that day,
    18 But the idols He shall utterly abolish.?

  2. y3shuA imMANu3l | June 2, 2016 at 5:38 pm | Reply

    Isaiah 2:19
    They shall go into the holes of the rocks,
    And into the caves of the earth,
    From the terror of the Lord
    And the glory of His majesty,
    When He arises to shake the earth mightily.

  3. The NAZI’s passed “laws” too, justified everything they did legally in the name if the German people. The Judges have no honor and will be judged themselves . It it growing more apparent everyday that nothing short of a full on bullets flying revolution will result from the nonstop erosion of thee Bill of Rights and all the so called laws passed. I really get a kick out of laws passed in secret…You can’t even know the law! How ridiculous is that? No doubt many of these judges will be lined up and shot just like in Germany….and not that well have anything better in the wake of that sort of chaos, At least that crowd of tyranical despots will know they brought it on and had it coming.

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