In case you missed it, in surveillance-speak a Stingray is a portable, usually mobile, device affixed to a vehicle which mimics a cellphone tower. It has been, and is being, used by various law enforcement agencies to glean information from unwitting suspect’s cellphones which are located in homes or offices.
Their use wasn’t common knowledge to the public or suspects due to deceptive, dodgy agreements among manufacturers and end users , who were not alone in their duplicity. As if this isn’t intrusive enough, the use of Stingrays has been conducted without the appropriate warrants, or even full judicial knowledge of their use. We have written several articles highlighting the abuses ,and that judges in the state of Washington have wised-up to the furtive practices of the police in employing them.
Amid the controversy over warrants comes a story about the FBI acknowledging its use of Stingrays, and contending it has the appropriate forms to request warrants for use of the devices. This comes on the heels of requests by US senators Grassley and Leahy. That is good news – but wait. We must clarify as the FBI attaches caveats to its need for warrants:
’It is not necessary in situations where there is deemed to be an imminent danger to public safety or cases which involve a fugitive. Also, the FBI maintains that a warrant is unnecessary the Stingray is employed in a public place or other location where they deem there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.’
This interpretation is too overly broad to comply with the spirit of the Fourth Amendment. Because, taken at face value and acknowledging that usually a vehicle is involved, a Stingray will obviously mainly operate in public space- roads or skies. Using this rationale of theirs, there may never be a need for them to seek a warrant. Fortunately, the two senators are not duped by the FBI’s attempt at subterfuge, and have asked for more clarification.
At the heart of the matter is the clandestine manner in which the Stingrays have been brought into the public domain, and how they have been utilized. At least now the cat is out of the bag. Due to diligent reporting over the past seven months, law enforcement has admitted the practice of Stingrays, and been forced to acknowledge they’ve been devious in masking their use. It is a small victory for privacy rights, but any victory is to be cherished and lauded these days.