In what activists and community advocates are claiming as a “win,” a Federal District Court Judge in New York recently ruled that Stingray technology is illegal without the use of a search warrant. “Stingray” is the common name used to describe technology that tricks cellphones into sending signals to law enforcement monitored tracking devices that the cellphones treat as cell phone towers. As the stingray device picks up more “pings” from neighboring cell phones, it becomes easier for law enforcement to locate people based on where their cellphones are sending signals.
This latest decision marks the first time a federal court has said that the use of stingray technology constitutes a violation of our Fourth Amendment right against unlawful search or seizure of property. Earlier this year, a Maryland appellate court similarly found that stingray technology can only be used if law enforcement officials have a search warrant to obtain any information they receive from the cell phone intercepts.
As reported by The New York Times, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is among the organizations pleased by the outcome of this federal case. Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff lawyer for the ACLU said, “a federal court has finally held the authorities to account,” adding that the opinion “strongly reinforces the strength of our constitutional privacy rights in the digital age.” According to Judge William H. Pauley III, “Absent a search warrant, the government may not turn a citizen’s cellphone into a tracking device.”
Beyond obtaining personal information without people’s knowledge and consent, the challenge with Stingray technology is that it accesses a high volume of information indiscriminately – the Media Action Grassroots Network estimates it can receive private data from up to 10,000 people at one time. By the ACLU’s estimates, at least 66 agencies across 24 states and the District of Columbia currently use unwarranted stingray technology, and the public is largely unaware of the practice.
To learn more about Stingray technology and its affects, or to take action against this invasive practice, visit MobileLikeMe and tell your local elected officials to make sure the practice doesn’t continue.