Stingray use could be unconstitutional, finds House report

Law enforcement use needs to be better regulated

Use of cellphone spying technology has become widespread among U.S. law enforcement agencies and should be better regulated, according to a new congressional report.

Not only is the FBI deploying the technology, commonly called "Stingray" after one product made by Harris Corp., but so are state and local police. And there are concerns that some law enforcement agencies have used Stingrays without securing search warrants, said the report from House Committee on Oversight and Reform, published on Monday.

“Absent proper oversight and safeguards, the domestic use of (Stingrays) may well infringe upon the constitutional rights of citizens to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures,” it said.

The report focuses on the privacy concerns with the controversial surveillance device, which can intercept a phone’s location, along with calls, SMS text messages, and websites visited on the device.

Stingrays can be deployed from both the ground and air and work by mimicking cellular base stations to secretly spy on a target mobile phone. Although they can be useful in law enforcement, privacy advocates have argued that the technology can easily be abused to harvest data from vast swaths of non-criminal suspects, possibly violating the U.S. Constitution.

Monday’s committee report offered a glimpse into the scale of the U.S. government’s Stingray use, which has often been shrouded in secrecy. For instance, the Justice Department has 310 devices, and spent $71 million from 2010-2014 on the technology.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security has 124 devices, and spent $24 million on the tech during the same period. DHS also gave $1.8 million to state and local police to buy Stingrays through grant money.

Cost of an individual Stingray can range from $41,500 to as much as $500,000, according to the committee’s report.

In 2015, both Justice Department and DHS issued new policies on the technology, requiring that a search warrant be obtained before a Stingray can be used. But prior to that, the two departments relied on varying policies that didn’t always demand probable cause, the committee’s report said.

State and local police are also using the technology without a uniform policy. In addition, the Department of Justice has learned of “isolated incidents” where private entities may have used Stingrays, a possible violation of U.S. law, the report said.

“One can imagine scenarios where criminals or foreign agents use this type of technology to intercept text messages and voice calls of law enforcement, corporate CEOs, or elected officials,” the report warned.

Although the technology is a valuable law enforcement tool, the bipartisan committee nevertheless wants to limit its use and has put forth a list of recommendations. This includes the U.S. government passing legislation on a nationwide framework on how geolocation information can be access and used.  

It’s also asking that state and local police follow the policies the Justice Department and DHS are using in regards to Stingray use. Law enforcement should also be candid with courts regarding the technology's deployment during criminal investigations, the committee's report said.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Kan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?