New evidence suggests that the Department of Justice has been using ‘Stingray’ technology without a warrant from a federal magistrate. Stingray technology is a type of spoofing that tricks a cellular phone into thinking it is a cell tower and then tracks and captures all data being transmitted from that cell phone.
Recent evidence suggests that the FBI has been monitoring cell phone communications by means of the technology that tricks the phone into thinking it is just another cell tower. Stingray (AKA, WITT or Triggerfish [pdf file link]) can locate the position of a cell phone and even intercept live communications coming from that particular phone, however, it also sees other phones on that network as well, which adds additional controversy to its legality.
The controversy surrounding the FBI’s use of the technology comes by way of a Daniel Rigmaiden who is on trial for wire fraud, conspiracy and identity theft in 2008. Rigmaiden’s defense sought discovery evidence that shows the federal agency tracked their client by the use of the Stingray device and that it was done so without a federal warrant or by any current law.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a grievance in support of Rigmaiden’s defense, and they have requested that all the evidence gained on Rigmaiden, by use of the Stingray technology, be thrown out of court.
The ACLU of Northern California is claiming that they have hard evidence suggesting that the Department of Justice has hid this ill-gotten evidence (by way of the Stingray technology) against Rigmaiden knowingly and willfully from the federal courts. Linda Lye who serves as a staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California recently wrote online about the ordeal, and she says the FBI has been using this type of technology illegally for sometime.
“The federal government was routinely using stingray technology in the field, but failing to ‘make that explicit’ in its applications to the court to engage in electronic surveillance,” Lye writes in an ACLU blog posting. “When the magistrate judges in the Northern District of California finally found out what was happening, they expressed ‘collective concerns,’ according to the emails. Notably, this email chain is dated May 2011, some three years after the Stingray’s use in Rigmaiden’s case – meaning the government was not ‘forthright’ in its applications to federal magistrate judges for at least three years.”
The ACLU and EFF maintains the defensive argument that the government never disclosed any intent on any warrant that they would be using such an intrusive device to gain evidence. They also argue that such a device is ‘highly intrusive and indiscriminate’ use of technology that takes information in a broad manner from an entire network of communications in any given area.
This latest case is another argument on how federal police agencies, such and the FBI, have routinely violated the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Many feel that federal police agencies are now routinely misrepresenting and often neglect to inform federal judges how they intend on gathering intelligence on a subject.
The ACLU and EFF are asking the courts to see the precedent with the Supreme Court’s opinion in US v. Jones, which states that police cannot use a GPS physically attached to a moving vehicle without a warrant to do so. While this case does not involve any physical device, it does show tracking without a warrant from a federal magistrate