Police Regularly Use Stingrays Without A Warrant To Find Petty Criminals, Then Try To Hide That Fact

from the more-of-the-same dept

Over the last few years, we've published a ton of stories about the growing police reliance on Stingray cell site simulator devices (also known as IMSI catchers), that mimic a real cell phone tower and help provide the location of a certain mobile phone. As we've written, these devices have been super popular with police departments, who often receive them from the federal government with strict non-disclosure agreements, which means law enforcement has been known to lie to courts or simply drop cases where the usage is at risk of coming out in court.

It seems that this story is getting more and more national attention. Brad Heath, over at USA Today, has a fairly deep dive into the fact that police are using these devices to solve petty crimes all the time, without a warrant, and then refusing to tell defendants how they were caught (which is a bit of a constitutional no-no). Heath specifically was able to get a police surveillance log in Baltimore, which detailed how the devices were used there.
The records show that the city's police used stingrays to catch everyone from killers to petty thieves, that the authorities regularly hid or obscured that surveillance once suspects got to court and that many of those they arrested were never prosecuted.

Defense attorneys assigned to many of those cases said they did not know a stingray had been used until USA TODAY contacted them, even though state law requires that they be told about electronic surveillance.

“I am astounded at the extent to which police have been so aggressively using this technology, how long they’ve been using it and the extent to which they have gone to create ruses to shield that use,” Stephen Mercer, the chief of forensics for Maryland’s public defenders, said.
Some of the cases are absolutely ridiculous -- such as the one where an angry husband grabbed his wife's phone and left the house. Police declared it a theft and used an IMSI catcher to track it down... but by that point, the husband had already given it back to his wife, so the police just showed up at her home where she already had the phone. Also, because it's so easy to use these devices to just go and locate anyone, Baltimore police sometimes used it just to find the location of witnesses (i.e., people who haven't committed any crimes). That's going way over the line of what's appropriate.

These things are being used so often in so many cases with so little transparency, one hopes that the growing press attention will finally lead to much more accountability on how these devices are used and a requirement for a warrant.
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Filed Under: baltimore, cell site simulators, imsi catchers, law enforcement, police, privacy, stingrays


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2020 @ 5:51am

    Re:

    This is disturbing and insane. Even disgruntled terminated employees can invent things and convince detectives and the law to use them. This can complicate life on many levels. I know a few and I am working with the CA Republican party to outlaw this. Innocent people should not be harrassed by these tools. It can cause even the innocent people to become paranoid and especially if they are self-made. can't wait until this abuse is regulated


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