NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act request today with federal immigration authorities to learn about the government’s use of cell phone tracking devices for deportations and other immigration enforcement actions.
The request, filed with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, comes the same day that The Detroit News revealed that ICE agents obtained a search warrant authorizing use of a cell phone tracker to locate an immigrant suspected of being removable.
The devices — often known as “Stingrays” after a popular model — can locate an individual cell phone by impersonating a wireless cell tower. Collecting unique identifiers of all phones in a particular location inherently collects location data on many innocent people.
“We’re troubled to see evidence of ICE using invasive surveillance equipment for immigration enforcement purposes, especially given this administration’s hyper-aggressive approach in this area,” said ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler. “It’s crucial that the government release this information so the public can understand how immigration authorities are using Stingrays and what limits they’re placing on this technology.”
Although it has been publicly known for several years that ICE has purchased cell site simulator technology, this is the first time the ACLU has seen evidence of use of the technology in a particular ICE investigation or operation.
The FOIA request asks for, among other things, records on usage policies, how and how often the devices have been used, and procedures on deleting bystanders’ data.
The Department of Homeland Security issued a policy directive in 2015 governing use of cell site simulators, but little is known about use of the technology in ICE and CBP operations.
Today’s FOIA request is here: