Stingray tracking devices

Stingrays, also known as "cell site simulators" or "IMSI catchers," are invasive cell phone surveillance devices that mimic cell phone towers and send out signals to trick cell phones in the area into transmitting their locations and identifying information. When used to track a suspect's cell phone, they also gather information about the phones of countless bystanders who happen to be nearby.

Law enforcement agencies all over the country possess Stingrays, though their use is often shrouded in secrecy. The ACLU has uncovered evidence that federal and local law enforcement agencies are actively trying to conceal their use from public scrutiny, and we are continuing to push for transparency and reform.

In order to protect both privacy and First Amendment rights, the law needs to keep up with technology. The government must be open about the use of these powerful tools, and put in place rules on their usage to protect people’s Fourth Amendment rights and to prevent abuse.

Click here for an interactive map showing where Stingrays are in use.

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Photo of stingray at bottom of ocean

VICTORY: Judge Releases Information about Police Use of Stingray Cell Phone Trackers

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 3:12pm
A Florida judge has sided with the ACLU to order release of information about police use of “stingrays,” which are invasive surveillance devices that send out powerful signals to trick cell phones into transmitting their locations and identifying information. The Tallahassee judge’s pro-transparency decision stands in contrast to extreme secrecy surrounding stingray records in another Florida court, which is at the center of an emergency motion filed by the ACLU today.
Photo of Stingray from U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Documents Reveal Unregulated Use of Stingrays in California

By Linda Lye, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Northern California at 4:37pm

Local law enforcement agencies across the Bay Area have so-called stingray devices, a powerful cellphone surveillance tool, and more are planning to acquire the technology, according to public records recently obtained by Sacramento News10. The devices…

filing cabinet

U.S. Marshals Seize Local Cops’ Cell Phone Tracking Files in Extraordinary Attempt to Keep Information From Public

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:13pm

A run-of-the-mill public records request about cell phone surveillance submitted to a local police department in Florida has unearthed blatant violations of open government laws, including an incredible seizure of state records by the U.S. Marshals…

Trickle Down Surveillance

Trickle Down Surveillance

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:22am

Cell site simulators, also known as "stingrays," are devices that trick cellphones into reporting their locations and identifying information. They do so by mimicking cellphone towers and sending out electronic cues that allow the police to enlist…

Photo of cell phone tower disguised as a palm tree.

ACLU-Obtained Documents Reveal Breadth of Secretive Stingray Use in Florida

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 5:30pm

The ACLU is releasing records today obtained from law enforcement agencies across Florida about their acquisition and use of sophisticated cell phone location tracking devices known as “Stingrays.” These records provide the most detailed account…

photograph of cancer cells under microscope

Secrecy is a Cancer on Our Democracy

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:25am

In our 2011 ACLU report on secrecy "Drastic Measures Required," my co-author Mike German and I wrote that "American democracy has a disease, and it's called secrecy." Government secrecy, we wrote, "is growing like a cancer in our democracy."

Events…

Photo of aircraft

ACLU Seeks Information About Airborne Cell Phone Snooping

By Bennett Stein, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project at 7:59am

The ACLU is filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request today for information about a newly revealed Marshals Service program that uses aircraft to suck up location data from tens of thousands of people’s cell phones at a time.

The…

Image of radio signal in sky

ACLU Fights for Limits on Secret Phone Tracking

By Samia Hossain, William J. Brennan Fellow, ACLU Speech, Privacy, & Technology Project at 11:08am

In March of this year, Robert Harrison had a cell phone with him while he was inside his home. Though he has kept and used a cell phone as long as any of us, this time, things were different.

Unbeknownst to Harrison, Baltimore police officers…

stingray device

Internal Police Emails Show Efforts to Hide Use of Cell Phone Tracking

By Maria Kayanan, Associate Legal Director, ACLU of Florida at 9:01pm

As we suspected, local law enforcement officials are borrowing cell phone tracking devices known as “stingrays” from the U.S. Marshals Service—and police are deliberately concealing the use of stingrays in court documents submitted to judges…

Florida "Surveillance State" license plate

Local Police in Florida Acting Like They’re the CIA (But They’re Not)

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:00am

The City of Sunrise, Florida, tried to take a page from the CIA’s anti-transparency playbook last week when it responded to an ACLU public records request about its use of powerful cell phone location tracking gear by refusing to confirm or deny…

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