As Secretive “Stingray” Surveillance Tool Becomes
More Pervasive, Questions Over Its Illegality Increase
By Trevor Timm
February 12, 2013
A few months ago, EFF warned of a secretive new surveillance tool being used by the FBI in cases around the country commonly referred to as a “Stingray.” Recently, more information on the device has come to light and it makes us even more concerned than before.
The device, which acts as a fake cell phone tower, essentially allows the government to electronically search large areas for a particular cell phone’s signal—sucking down data on potentially thousands of innocent people along the way. At the same time, law enforcement has attempted use them while avoiding many of the traditional limitations set forth in the Constitution, like individualized warrants. This is why we called the tool “an unconstitutional, all-you-can-eat data buffet.”
Recently, LA Weekly reported the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) got a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grant in 2006 to buy a stingray. The original grant request said it would be used for “regional terrorism investigations.” Instead LAPD has been using it for just about any investigation imaginable.
In just a four month period in 2012, according to documents obtained by the First Amendment Coalition, the LAPD has used the device at least 21 times in “far more routine” criminal investigations. The LA Weekly reported Stingrays “were tapped for more than 13 percent of the 155 ‘cellular phone investigation cases’ that Los Angeles police conducted between June and September last year.” These included burglary, drug and murder cases.