FCC Helped Create the Stingray Problem, Now it Needs to Fix It

This article originally appeared on EFF.org by ERNESTO FALCON

It is long overdue for the FCC to address Stingrays’ impact on speech, interference with 911 calls, and invasion of privacy.


A network tower sends signals to people holding cellphones. A large van with an antenna is in the middle disrupts it.

FCC Helped Create the Stingray Problem, Now it Needs to Fix It

It is long overdue for the FCC to address Stingrays’ impact on speech, interference with 911 calls, and invasion of privacy.

EFF recently joined with the American Civil Liberties Union in a petition to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in support of a complaint filed against the Baltimore Police Department for illegal usage of a surveillance technology, often called “Stingray,” that spies on our cell phones by simulating a cellular tower. A dozen U.S. Senators led by Senators Franken, Leahy, and Wyden have also recently weighed in with the FCC on the need to investigate the issue along with any disproportionate impacts on communities of color who are more dependent on wireless broadband as their only means to communicate. We think the time has come for FCC action as the grave problems of harmful communications interference, disrupted access to emergency 911 services, and invasions of privacy reach beyond just Baltimore and require a national solution. The airwaves are public property and belong to all of us and the FCC manages those airwaves on behalf of the public.

What is the FCC’s Role in Addressing the Issues?

Federal law mandates that every commercial device that emits or transmits electromagnetic signals must be approved by the FCC. From the iPhone to your common router, the FCC has reviewed and approved every wireless commercial product in the United States in order to ensure that the airwaves remain usable by avoiding interference that would make transmitting a clear signal impossible. While this may seem fairly top down, it has prevented many instances of harmful interference in the wireless marketplace.

The FCC’s involvement in cell site simulators began years ago when it first approved commercial sales to law enforcement. Documents disclosed under FOIA show that the company that sells Stingrays had local police departments lobby the FCC close to ten years ago for approval. A common claim repeated verbatim by different departments was that cell site simulators would create minimal interference, be rarely used, and briefly interact with phones. However, law enforcement today instead is using this surveillance equipment in ways that directly contradict their original assertions to the FCC.

We now know, for example, that police departments use them for hours at a time without a warrant, that officers deploy them for tracking down people suspected of non-violent crimes like harassing phone calls, and that certain devices do in fact cause significant interference to cell service. The combination of the extraordinary power of these surveillance tools (they can scan hundreds of innocent user cell phones at once) and the lack of FCC regulations has resulted in explosive growth in their deployment. Outside of the baseline statutory prohibitions against “harmful interference” and requiring a license to transmit (which is different than an authorization to sell the device), no FCC rules exists that specifically regulate cell site simulators.

Police today violate these basic statutory protections when using cell site simulators and thereby disrupting the cellular service of many innocent people. Based on publicly available information, it appears that some cell site simulators utilized today by law enforcement are jamming LTE and 3G services in order to force phones to downgrade to 2G services where they are easily exploited due to legacy vulnerabilities. A study by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police also found that 911 call access can be blocked 50 percent of the time when a phone interacts with a cell site simulator. Testing these devices requires technical analysis but cell site simulators are only legally sold to and owned by law enforcement agencies. Therefore, the FCC is the best suited agency with the legal authority and technical expertise to determine what is happening in Baltimore and potentially across the entire country as wireless surveillance by law enforcement continues to proliferate.

In the past, the FCC faced a similar issue when dealing with cell phone signal boosters. Third parties developed mini-towers that would augment wireless signals in areas with poor coverage. Carriers complained that these devices were operating in their exclusive space and disrupting their service. That was the same problem we see today: signal boosters, like cell site simulators, were interfering with communication services and 911 access. The FCC’s response should be the same now as it was then: the agency studied the problem and took steps to resolve it in a public forum.

FCC Should Mandate Transparency and Judicial Review for Cell Site Simulators

The sale of police surveillance equipment (often in coordination with federal law enforcement officials) has systematically been shielded from public scrutiny. EFF has spent years trying to break through the obfuscation, with some success, but too many secrets remain. It is time for local communities to have more control over their police. The FCC has the authority to require transparency as a condition of usage. For example, it can require local law enforcement departments to register their intent to purchase and deploy a cell site simulator and thereby provide public notice before the fact. In the few instances where local government has been made aware of the intention of local police to purchase surveillance equipment, public debate followed, and local officials and community members properly had a direct say for or against the expansion of police surveillance.

The time also appears ripe to harmonize basic judicial review requirements for state and local police with policies already adopted by federal agencies. In late 2015, the Department of Justice instructed federal law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before using a cell site simulator, in recognition of the constitutional privacy rights of citizens. The Department of Homeland Security followed suit with its own policy mandating that Stingray usage required a warrant. The FCC should apply such a policy to state and local law enforcement entities, too, as a condition of using the public airwaves for surveillance equipment. The FCC can protect the public interest by bringing local and state law enforcement actors in line with federal policy designed to protect citizens’ constitutional privacy rights against unreasonable searches.

It is possible that cell site simulators simply will not work in today’s crowded wireless market and that law enforcement will have to rely directly on carriers for information about telephones after acquiring the appropriate judicial clearance. Simply put, Americans should not be forced to accept degraded services and law enforcement should not be given a blank check to cause harmful interference. The FCC must act on behalf of the public to begin resolving this problem.

Police documents reveal how law enforcement keep Stingray use secret

This article originally appeared on DailyDot.com by  and 

Police records obtained by the Daily Dot reveal in unprecedented detail how the Obama administration enables law enforcement to suppress information about controversial phone-surveillance technology used by police throughout the United States.


The documents, which link the purchase of so-called Stingray devices to various North Carolina state and local police agencies, include a fill-in-the-blank warrant drafted by the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) and intended for use by state and local police that extends the veil of secrecy over law enforcement’s Stingray use.

The records, originally acquired by Working Narratives under North Carolina public records law and shared with Daily Dot reporters, also offer new specifics about the capabilities of Stingrays bought by police in North Carolina from Harris Corporation, a leading U.S. manufacturer of cell-site simulators, and the company behind the original “StingRay” procured by the Pentagon and various intelligence agencies more than two decades ago. The North Carolina agencies referenced by the documents include the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office; the Wilmington Police Department; and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, an agency that reports directly to Gov. Patrick L McCrory (R).

A batch of internal emails also obtained by the Daily Dot show police debating tactics to keep certain officers away from the witness stand, as well as discussing with a U.S. Secret Service employee the federal government’s efforts to prevent disclosures about these closely guarded surveillance tools, which are used to pinpoint the location of a targeted individual through the interception of cellphone signals.

U.S. attorneys have portrayed the Stingray—the colloquial term for a “cell-site simulator”— as an invaluable law enforcement tool, one that aids in complex narcotics investigations, kidnapping cases, and fugitive apprehension efforts. The government has argued against the disclosure of any information related to Stingrays, stating that it would pose “significant risks to effective law enforcement, and ultimately the safety of the public and the national security of the United States.”  The government also requires non-disclosure agreements for police departments that obtain them.

Legal experts, however, say that Department of Justice has purposefully crafted a template for police Stingray warrants that obscures critical details about the device’s operational capabilities from the judges who authorize their use. Multiple civil- and digital-rights organizations claim the language applied in the warrants effectively downplays the most intrusive feature of simulated cell-site technology: jamming the cellphone signals of dozens, if not hundreds, of innocent bystanders while collecting information about them.

How Stingrays work

Stingrays, sometimes called “IMSI catchers,” work by emulating the base transceiver stations—commonly referred to as “cell towers”—that serve as a midpoint, essentially, between cellphones and the cellular networks operated by telecom giants such as AT&TVerizon, and T-Mobile. The purpose of a Stingray, which is roughly the size of a suitcase, is to hack this connection.

A cellphone is itself a tracking device. An AT&T subscriber will not receive calls or messages unless AT&T can locate their phone. In the high-speed LTE network, the relative location of a cellphone is tracked at all times to ensure calls are placed as quickly as possible. This is accomplished, in part, because the network is always checking to see which cell towers subscribers are closest to. If a subscriber is no longer in reach of the last tower they connected to, the search expands outward, starting with nearby towers within the same tracking area. Police exploit this technical process by positioning Stingrays to serve as the cell tower closest to their target.

“Whether or not they’re using it, there’s no way to tell. It is scout’s honor.”

The moment the Stingray is deployed it begins to masquerade as a cell tower, transmitting a radio signal slightly more powerful than the legitimate towers in the area. The effect is such that cellphones within reach of the police signal drop their connections to the legitimate cell towers and connect instead to the police device, which can be carted around in a van or the trunk of a car.

Cellphones, once connected to a Stingray, lose their ability to send or receive calls, texts, and any other form of communication. This communications blackout could potentially affect dozens or hundreds of subscribers at once—not only an intended target.

When the target’s phone is located among those affected by the device, police can use a direction-finding (DF) antenna to track the phone’s transmission to its source—down to a specific room in a house. A common DF antenna attachment for the Stingrays is called “AmberJack.” The range of Harris Corporation’s Stingray, according to manuals previously leaked by the Intercept, is approximately 200 meters. However, various range-extending attachments are available as well.

“There are two versions of the software for Harris cell-site simulators: a federal version and a state/local version,” says Mike Katz-Lacabe, a California-based researcher and privacy activist. “Based on my research, I believe that the state and local versions cannot intercept phone calls and text messages, but the federal version can. The hardware is the same for both versions of the software.

“Given the secrecy surrounding these devices, little is known about when they are used, how frequently, how much data they collect, or how long that data is stored,” adds Katz-Lacabe of the Center for Human Rights and Privacy, whose website lists 25 non-disclosure agreements between police departments and the FBI.

With LTE now in use by more than a billion devices worldwide, the process for intercepting cellphone signals is not as easy as hoisting an antenna in the air. Older GSM networks only require phones to authenticate with cell towers, but with LTE, authentication goes both ways: Cell towers—or in this case, Stingrays—must likewise authenticate back to the phone.

This “handshake” between phone and tower is a complex, multi-step protocol that modern Stingrays must now emulate. Some North Carolina authorities have purchased an upgraded version of the Stingray called “HailStorm,” the sole purpose of which is to circumvent the enhanced security protocols built into LTE networks.

Given the complexities involved in exploiting the LTE network, referring to a Stingray as simply a “surveillance tool” is reductive. They are, in fact, sophisticated hacking machines.

Deceiving judges

Public interest in Stingrays rose sharply in 2012 following an Arizona court battle (U.S. v. Rigmaiden) concerning their use. FBI agents had deployed one of the devices during a mail and wire fraud investigation, which led to a suspect’s capture. In doing so, it collected information on a number of “innocent, non-targeted devices.” (FBI said it purged all information unrelated to its case, as required by a court order.) That same year, it’s worth noting, a government prosecutor in New Orleans claimed in court that cellphone owners have “no reasonable expectation of privacy” with regards to cell-site data collected by providers. That argument failed to sway the presiding magistrate. In 2013, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, reversed the ruling, stating that law enforcement did not require a search warrant to access historical data obtained directly from a phone company.

In September 2015, the Justice Department reversed course, announcing a new policy that requires all federal law enforcement agencies to obtain a probable cause warrant before deploying a Stingray. The Justice Department would not concede, however, that warrants should be required in all cases, meaning it has preserved the ability to argue in court that warrants are not necessary. Nevertheless, the announcement was met with applause from influential digital rights groups, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The policy—which is not to be confused with law—further requires all state and local law enforcement to obtain warrants before using a Stingray in conjunction with a federal investigation. According to internal police records acquired by the Daily Dot, the Justice Department has provided agencies below the federal level with a template for how these warrants should be drafted.

“There are good reasons for police and prosecutors to want to save time when they’re in an investigation and having to re-write an application from scratch probably doesn’t make sense,” says Nathan Wessler, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union. “What becomes troubling is when some of the boilerplate they intend to just be copied and pasted fails to give a robust enough description of what police want to do.”

According to Wessler and other legal experts who reviewed the warrant, the DOJ’s template is deliberately vague when police tell a judge exactly what the device they want to use is capable of. The warrant minimizes the device’s expansive surveillance capabilities, effectively lies about the technical consequences to bystanders, and deliberately keeps judges in the dark and shielded from oversight responsibilities.

In a statement to the Daily Dot, the DOJ says that the use of Stingray devices are designed to be compliant with the law.

“The current language of Department warrants related to cell-site simulators makes clear that in order to follow department policy and federal law, the devices are designed to comply with the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment and Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, as well as the Pen Register Statute,” DOJ spokesperson Dena W. Iverson said.



The DOJ warrant describes the Stingray as a “trap-and-trace device/cell-site simulator”—making the two descriptions seem interchangeable—that will “determine the location” of their target. But the cell-site simulators can do a whole lot more. It doesn’t just take metadata on call numbers and duration; simulators can do anything up to and including recording phone calls.

“It has the capability, depending on software settings, to intercept text messages and [phone call] content,” says Stephanie Lacambra, a staff attorney at EFF. “They keep trying to say, ‘Oh we’ll make sure that isn’t going to happen.’”


Law enforcement is instructed to ask the court to keep the warrant to use the Stingray secret, according to these documents, even though the Justice Department claims publicly that it encourages disclosure, Lacambra says. On the blank warrant, the DOJ instructs police to tell judges that Stingray disruption is just like “ordinary” cell service. Elsewhere, however, the DOJ admits that Stingrays can disrupt cellphone calls and interfere with the cellular network for anyone within up to 650 feet of the target. In a major American city, that distance potentially encompasses hundreds of homes and thousands of individuals.

We know from sworn testimony from Toronto police that Stingrays can disrupt all cell activity up to and including 911 calls. Even though the devices are programmed to disengage when citizens in the area attempt to reach emergency services, they often fail to do so, according to an internal Royal Mounted Canadian Police (RCMP) memo, published this April by the Globe and Mail.

“I guess this is one way to avoid FOIA and the ACLU.”

Internal records acquired by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in 2012 revealed concerns at DOJ over the use of cellphone-tracking equipment and how it might conflict with federal laws governing the use of radio transmissions, namely, the Communications Act.

By design, Stingrays transmit signals over commercial radio frequency bands licensed exclusively to cellphone companies; because law enforcement agencies operating Stingrays do not have a license to transmit over these bands, legal experts have argued their use is prohibited under federal law. Last month, the Center for Media Justice, Color Of Change, and New America’s Open Technology Institute began pushing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates wireless communications in all 50 states, to investigate police use of Stingray technology.

Stingrays also appear to meet the criteria for being considered a “jamming device” under FCC guidelines. In a 2014 advisory notice underscoring FCC’s prohibition on police using jammers, P. Michele Ellison, chief of the agency’s Enforcement Bureau, explained that a jammer generally does not discriminate between desirable and undesirable communications,” meaning innocent people are as affected by their use as police targets. Further, Ellison explains that “cell jammers” are devices that prevent “your cellphone from making or receiving calls, text messages, and emails.”

In a statement on Aug. 17, the EFF called on the FCC to begin proceedings to address “not only the harmful interference but also the duty of every police department to use Stingrays in a constitutional way, and to publicly disclose—not hide—the facts around acquisition and use of this powerful wireless surveillance technology.”

Funded by drugs

Many of the new Stingray documents from North Carolina are notable for their lack of redactions, according to Katz-Lacabe, given the level of secrecy typically surrounding their use.

The records, for instance, show that the Wilmington Police Department, whose port-city jurisdiction resides within New Hanover County, spent $33,900 on Stingray maintenancein February 2015, roughly a year after upgrading a StingRay II device and purchasing a range extender for a total of $93,625.

Wilmington P.D. did not respond to a request for comment.

Records from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) show that in June 2013, $169,500 was expensed by the agency to purchase Harris Corp. hardware, including a “KingFish X1 to HailStorm Upgrade,” in addition to a software package ($22,000), three “Harpoon” signal boosters (up to $22,200), and a wide band “Amber Jack” radio directional finder ($38,400). Internal emails also show that SBI was operating a “Sting Ray” as far back as February 2010, when the SBI assistant director authorized a $60,000 expense to upgrade the device to track Nextel phones.

SBI declined to comment for this story.

The money to purchase the 2010 upgrade was allocated from a “drug tax” fund, the records show.


A drug tax, also known as the unauthorized substance tax, is levied against citizens in possession of illegal narcotics. By law, North Carolinians are required to pay a drug tax within 48 hours of coming into possession of a controlled substance. The tax, which nets the North Carolina government millions of dollars every year—75 percent of which is reportedly allocated back to law enforcement—ranges from $3.50 per gram of marijuana and $50.00 per gram of cocaine up to $200 per gram for other narcotics illegally sold by weight.

Just as drug arrests overwhelmingly target communities of color, disruptions caused by Stingrays also disproportionately impact minority communities, according to civil rights groups criticizing police use of the device. Rend Smith, communications director at Working Narratives, says the purpose of his organization is to expose the increased scrutiny of these targeted communities. “New technologies are increasingly being adopted by law enforcement agencies already struggling with inbuilt bias, and will ultimately exacerbate racial disparities,” he says. “The mainstream media have largely failed to tell the story of this trend, and so we began a campaign focused on exposing it.”

The Free Movement Campaign, founded by Working Narratives under the direction of Executive Director Nick Szuberla, began investigating the use of Stingrays in North Carolina as part of a state-based effort to shine a light on the lack of protection from surveillance and police militarization overwhelmingly affecting communities of color. “In terms of Stingrays, a surveillance technology that scans for and captures cellphone communication, the civil liberties threats are particularly egregious—with law enforcement agents making a concerted effort to avoid court oversight and keep the public in the dark,” Smith says.

Working Narratives, he adds, intends to continue targeting “strategic counties and municipalities” with public information requests concerning police surveillance practices.

Avoiding the courtroom

One focal point of police secrecy on Stingrays has been the witness stand. An email exchange between officials at the New Hanover Sheriff’s Department obtained by the Daily Dot, which accompanied the DOJ’s Stingray warrant, reveals the concerns of officers who may be called to testify about their department’s surveillance practices.

The FBI has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep local, state, and federal law enforcement quiet about the surveillance device—even if it means dropping a criminal case. Faced with the prospect of revealing information about Stingrays in court, prosecutors around the country have repeatedly dropped criminal charges. Non-disclosure agreements between the FBI and other agencies specifically prohibit talking about Stingrays even in court, an unprecedented step in the name of secrecy and surveillance in the United States.

The 2014 email exchange shows members of the New Hanover Sheriff’s Department strategizing over how to avoid the witness stand by having other officers sign affidavits. One officer who dealt with every pen register affidavit across the department sought advice from others on how to “keep me off the witness stand.” The full reasoning behind the exchange is unclear.


“Perhaps there is a legitimate reason for this if he isn’t substantively involved with the pen register orders involving the StingRay,” Katz-Lacabe says. “Or maybe it’s something more devious and aligned with the portions of the [non-disclosure agreement between the FBI and local police] that prohibit disclosure to the judicial system.”

Other emails obtained by the Daily Dot reveal the ways in which law enforcement view media coverage of Stingrays and the court battles meant to add transparency their use.

In an email thread, New Hanover Sheriff’s Department officers discuss Stingrays with an employee of the U.S. Secret Service. The employee, who does not appear to be communicating in an official capacity, forwarded to police Wired news articledescribing how U.S. Marshals seized records related to Stingrays from a Sarasota, Florida, police department to prevent the documents from being released to the ACLU under public records law. The confiscation was described by Wessler at the time as “extraordinary” and “beyond the worst transparency violations.”

“I guess this is one way to avoid FOIA and the ACLU,” the Secret Service employee remarked.

Stingray-6 copy.png

SBI emails show the Secret Service had assisted North Carolina authorities with Stingray surveillance as far back as 2010. “This is problematic in that they are not always able to assist due to other core missions that naturally take priority within their agency,” one SBI agent wrote while requesting funding to upgrade his agency’s equipment.

In response to the Wired article, one New Hanover officer, apparently a member of a narcotics squad, replied:  “Yep, saw it this morning. good thing none of us have a stingray… lol.”

A spokesperson for the New Hanover Sheriff’s Department declined to confirm whether the agency possesses a Stingray, though purchase orders from Harris Corporation suggest it does. After reviewing the documents, the department said it had “paid for maintenance on equipment that we use in our investigative processes.”

Another email from the same Secret Service employee contains several links to articles about Stingrays from outlets such as USA Today, Ars Technica, and Threatpost. The stories were accompanied by the message: “A compilation of recent propaganda for all to enjoy.”

Update 9:50am CT, Oct. 7: Added statement from DOJ.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly cited the focus of prosecutors in New Orleans when they argued that citizens have “no expectation of privacy.” The case was addressing historical cell-site data collected by phone companies. We regret the error.

FCC Complaint: Baltimore Police reaking law with use of stingray phone trackers

This article originally appeared on The Baltimore Sun.

By Ian Duncan, Baltimore Sun

Civil rights groups complained to the FCC Tuesday over the Baltimore Police Department‘s use of the cell phone tracking technology known as stingray, alleging that the way police use it interferes with emergency calls and is racially discriminatory.

The complaint argues that the police department doesn’t have a proper license to use the devices and is in violation of federal law. It calls on regulators at the Federal Communications Commission to step in and formally remind law enforcement agencies of the rules.

“The public is relying on the Commission to carry out its statutory obligation to do so, to fulfill its public commitment to do so, and to put an end to widespread network interference caused by rampant unlicensed transmissions made by BPD and other departments around the country,” the groups say in the complaint.

The case is being brought by Center for Media Justice, Color of Change, and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

The use of stingrays, also known as cell site simulators, was long shrouded in secrecy and many details about their use is still not publicly known. The devices work by imitating a cell phone tower so that nearby phones connect to them instead of the normal network, allowing police to gather information such as the location of a handset.

Police in Baltimore acknowledged in court last year that they had used the devices thousands of times to investigate crimes ranging from violent attacks to the theft of cellphones. Investigators had been concealing the technology from judges and defense lawyers and after the revelations Maryland’s second highest court ruled that police should get a warrant before using a Stingray.

Neil Grace, a spokesman for the FCC, said the commission was reviewing the complaint. “The commission expects state and local law enforcement to work through the appropriate legal processes to use these devices,” he said.

The police department declined to comment citing the “pending litigation.”

Laura Moy, a visiting professor at Georgetown University’s law school who is representing the groups, said the complaint is being lodged against Baltimore Police because of the evidence of its prolific use of the devices.

“It seems quite likely that the Baltimore Police Department makes the heaviest use of this technology of any police department in the country,” Moy said.

Exactly what impact Stingrays have on cell phone usage is not fully publicly known but the complaint cites government documents and news accounts to allege that they disrupt calls and could prevent callers reaching 911. The interference from a single device could affect several city blocks, the complaint alleges.

Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, said there is good evidence that the devices interrupt cell phone service. In some configurations they mobile block data connections in order to force a phone to use a less secure connection, he said, and in other cases seem to block calls outright.

Because the devices have been hidden from public view, Soghoian said, it has been difficult for communities that are suffering from the disruptions to understand what is happening and hold the police accountable.

“If you can’t make calls, it’s not like your phone is going to pop up with a message saying sorry the Baltimore PD is using a stingray right now,” he said. “It just doesn’t work.”

What’s more, the complaint argues, “these disruptions of the cellphone network—including of emergency calls—disproportionately harm the residents of Baltimore’s Black neighborhoods.”

The groups argue that surveillance using the devices also undermines people’s free speech rights and describe the use of Stingrays as an electronic form of the intrusive police practices described in the scathing Justice Department report on the police department’s pattern of civil rights violations.

“The problem of radicalized surveillance is particularly pronounced in Baltimore, where BPD’s racially biased policing is clearly reflected in its racially biased deployment of [cell site] simulators,” the groups say in the complaint.

Federal Judge Dubs Stingray Tech Unwarranted

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.