FBI Says It Has A Warrant Requirement For Stingray Use; Has Exception Broad Enough To Ensure It Never Needs A Warrant
from the the-warrant-that-wasn't-there dept
As Mike covered here earlier, Sens. Grassley and Leahy are asking the FBI for more answers on its Stingray usage. Not that anyone should be holding their breath in anticipation of a response. The government’s use of Stingray devices has been actively hidden from the public (and criminal defendants) for years. Local law enforcement’s use has also been hidden, thanks to a bizarre set of non-disclosure agreements, both with the manufacturer (Harris) and the FBI itself.
So, while we wait for the heavily-redacted responses to the senators’ queries to eventually arrive at an undetermined point in the far future, let’s take a closer look at what the FBI has actually gone on record with about its Stingray use.
The good news (that actually isn’t) is this: the FBI now has a warrant requirement for Stingray deployment. But there are (of course) exceptions.
[W]e understand that the FBI’s new policy requires FBI agents to obtain a search warrant whenever a cell-site simulator is used as part of a FBI investigation or operation, unless one of several exceptions apply, including (among others): (1) cases that pose an imminent danger to public safety, (2) cases that involve a fugitive, or (3) cases in which the technology is used in public places or other locations at which the FBI deems there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.
A Stingray device is rarely deployed from the comfort of the suspect’s living room. In fact, it’s safe to say this never happens. What does happen is that Stingrays are deployed from vehicles on public streets or flown overhead in aircraft. It would probably be safe to say that there has not been a Stingray deployment that didn’t occur in a public place.
So, there’s really no need to ever seek a warrant. The FBI can point proudly to its new warrant requirement as evidence of its respect for privacy, just as long as no one asks if there are any exceptions. Grassley and Leahy, however, have asked. And they have mastered the art of the understatement. They continue:
We have concerns about the scope of the exceptions.
The rule is demolished by the exception. There is no rule. There is no need for the FBI to ever seek a warrant for Stingray usage. If some weird situation does manage to crop up, it will probably involve some other exception (including ones that aren’t listed here), and we’re back to square one.
If and when the answers arrive, the numbers following these questions will be highly illuminating.
2. From January 1, 2010, to the effective date of the FBI’s new policy:
a. How many times did the FBI use a cell-site simulator?
b. In how many of these instances was the use of a cell-site simulator authorized by a search warrant?
c. In how many of these instances was the use of the cell-site simulator authorized by some other form of legal process? Please identify the legal process used.
d. In how many of these instances was the cell-site simulator used without any legal process?
e. In how many of the instances referenced in Question 2(d) did the FBI use a cell-site simulator in a public place or other location in which the FBI deemed there is no reasonable expectation of privacy?
Given the scope of the “public place” exception, the answers to (d) and (e) should be nearly identical. All that remains to be seen is how close those numbers are to 2(a).