IRS says it will get a warrant before using cell-site simulators

The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have also restricted the use of the technology without a warrant

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service is drafting a policy to restrict the use without a warrant of cell-site simulator technology to snoop on the location and other information from mobile phones.

The head of the IRS, John Koskinen, wrote in a letter that the agency was drafting a policy that would mirror an earlier Department of Justice rule,  which requires a search warrant supported by probable cause before using the technology,  except in exigent or exceptional circumstances.

Cell-site simulators, also referred to as stingrays or 'IMSI catchers,' track the location and other information from mobile phones by mimicking cellphone towers. The use of the technology without a warrant by law enforcement has been criticized by civil rights groups.

The Criminal Investigation division of the IRS first deployed the cell-site simulator in 2012, according to Koskinen's letter to Senator Ron Wyden. Since then the IRS-IC tracked 37 cellular devices in support of 11 federal grand jury investigations. The investigations were led by the U.S. Attorney's Office, which provided guidance in obtaining necessary authorizations, including court orders and tracking warrants, Koskinen wrote. The IRS also used the device in four other investigations that required the tracking of seven cellular devices.

The IRS commissioner said that the new policy would be issued by Monday. It wasn't immediately clear if the policy is now in effect.

DOJ said in September that its agents would have to obtain a search warrant supported by probable cause before using a cell-site simulator, with some exceptions. Under the DOJ policy, old and irrelevant data would also have to be deleted. It also prohibits the use of cell-site simulators to collect the contents of any communication in the course of criminal investigations. 

The Department of Homeland Security also announced a similar warrant requirement and data retention policy for the use of stingrays.

Koskinen wrote to Wyden that the IRS has not used the cellphone tracking technology after DOJ announced its policy, and had placed a hold on its use until the new IRS policy is issued.

New legislation, called the Cell-Site Simulator Act of 2015, was introduced in the House of Representatives last month, with the aim of prohibiting federal, state and local government agencies from using stingrays without a warrant.

Working from press reports and publicly available documents, the American Civil Liberties Union identified on a map 57 agencies in 22 states and the District of Columbia that have stingray technology. It warned that the map could underrepresent the deployment of stingray because of the secrecy surrounding its purchase and use.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?