Stingray Use Moves into Uncharted Territory

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

May 24, 2017

Stingray devices are again in the news, and for not the right reasons according to recent media reports. Stingrays were already controversial when implemented a few years ago by US law enforcement to locate suspects by tracking their cellphones. Now, in a classic case of government-creep (mission-creep, in military parlance), their mission has been expanded to locate and capture illegal, undocumented immigrants, to the consternation of many, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

In this case, the presumed illegal immigrant, Rudy Carcamo-Carranza of Michigan, was discovered with the aid of a Stingray. For the uninformed, Stingrays are basically portable devices that masquerade as cell phone towers, and trick cellphones into connecting to them so police can hone in on a target.

This article will cover a few different and distinct aspects to this use of a Stingray by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel in locating and apprehending Carcamo-Carranza. You, the reader, can decide on whether the outcry against the Stingray use is justified, as this is not just a simple case of law enforcement overreach.

First, there is the consideration of law and legality. Law enforcement has fought mightily to keep the technical capabilities of the Stingray under wraps. Manufacturer Harris Corporation sells its devices to police agencies, and requires them to sign nondisclosure statements. Law enforcement, in order to comply with these disclosure statements, has gone to great lengths to preserve secrecy, even going to the extreme of dropping charges against defendants, rather than have this proprietary technology exposed.

That’s right – to protect the secrecy of the capability,  some potentially guilty individuals have been released into the public, perhaps to commit crimes again. The police are that serious about keeping things close to their chest.

However – make no mistake –  as long as a warrant is executed for its deployment, Stingray use is legal. This is despite the fact that such devices may hoover extraneous information from innocent “bystanders,” or maybe even the contents of text messages or conversations that go beyond merely ascertaining a suspect’s location. It now appears that Stingrays’ use has morphed beyond just catching would-be criminals. This is the case here, as it was employed in an immigration interdiction.

The fact that it was used in an immigration enforcement issue adds other dimensions, in light of the hue-and-cry against President Trump’s unpopular (in some places) immigration policy. Liberals in general, and civil libertarians in particular, automatically have their antennae attuned to any whiff of right-wing repression when it comes to immigration. However, decrying the Stingray use just because it dovetails with a dislike for the president is a dubious tactic.

More importantly, it deflects attention away from the overarching argument that  Stingray use is an odious, if not unconstitutional, practice. In fact, the ACLU referred to the Carcamo-Carranza incident as being part of  and effort to “grease the wheels of the Trump administration’s deportation machine.”

This kind of biased, pejorative language is counter-productive to the cause, and does not serve any useful purpose. On the contrary, it only makes proponents of Stingrays dig in their heels, and bolsters support for Trump’s anti-immigration stance, which helped get him elected. It is yet again evidence that the out-of-touch, liberal mainstream media is off the mark, and hasn’t learned lessons about what allowed Trump to take the White House.

Specifically, in this instance, the Stingray was used in March by a team of FBI and ICE agents in Metro Detroit to find Carcamo-Carranza, 23, a twice-deported restaurant worker from El Salvador whose brushes with the law involved drink driving allegations and a hit-and-run crash. The media, as is their habit, conveniently omits the fact that entering the country illegally is unlawful – especially twice.

Also, many “illegals” are guilty of more than just driving under the influence, yet are protected in many largely Democratic/Liberal dominated “sanctuary cities,” which seek to shield illegal immigrants from law enforcement and ICE, even if they’ve run afoul of the law.

By the way, in Carcamo-Carranza’s case, a warrant was executed, making it a legal arrest, though the argument whether Stingray technology should be used for ICE purposes remains valid.

Incidentally, for these purposes I personally would not have chosen this subject, Rudy Carcamo-Caranza, as the poster boy for immigration abuse of either the Stingray or human rights. After all, by virtue of re-entering the country after having been already deported twice, and having been adjudged guilty of crimes and a fugitive, he doesn’t engender sympathy – just the opposite. It might be worth noting, too, that Carcamo-Carranza, whose Facebook handle is “Rude Boy Carranza,” also had gang connections. But this is glossed over and becomes newsworthy only because the media and civil libertarians are in an attack-anything-Trump mode.

Thus the likes of the ACLU and other civil liberty activists, unwittingly in my opinion, weaken their argument against Stingrays. They deflect attention from the real abuse and danger of harming innocent citizens in a Stingray operation, by throwing the spotlight onto the capture of an illegal immigrant who was a potential danger.

If anything it bolsters the case for using extreme means – including Stingrays – to deter potential criminals. I think the ACLU and the EFF (whose article was woefully lacking in detail and substance) can choose better scenarios than this one to make their case to the public.

Editor’s note: As always, Stan’s views are his own and should not be regarded as reflecting those of other staff members.

Image credit: EFF, Stingray, CC BY 3.0.
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