September 3, 2015

NEW YORK — The Department of Justice today issued new public guidelines for the use of a military-grade surveillance technology by certain federal agencies.

The surveillance tool, known as a cell site simulator or “Stingray,” mimics cell phone towers and forces all nearby cell phones to connect to the surveillance device rather than the tower nearby. Stingrays can locate and track people’s cell phones with great precision, including inside private homes, and can sweep in identifying information for large numbers of bystanders’ phones.

Nathan Freed Wessler, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, had this comment:

“After decades of secrecy in which the government hid this surveillance technology from courts, defense lawyers, and the American public, we are happy to see that the Justice Department is now willing to openly discuss its policies. Requiring the FBI, DEA, and other agencies to obtain a warrant before deploying these surveillance technologies — in most circumstances — is a positive first step. 

“However, this policy does not adequately address all concerns.  Disturbingly, the policy does not apply to other federal agencies or the many state and local police departments that have received federal funds to purchase these devices. In addition, the guidance leaves the door open to warrantless use of Stingrays in undefined “exceptional circumstances,” while permitting retention of innocent bystander data for up to 30 days in certain cases. 

“The Justice Department must close these loopholes, and Congress should act to pass more comprehensive legislation to ensure that Americans’ privacy is protected from these devices and other location tracking technologies.” 

 

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