WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents have abused Stingray cellphone surveillance technology requests by categorizing them as emergencies in order to avoid seeking search warrants, a civil rights organization attorney said in a press release on Monday.
“This suggests abuse of these [emergency] requests [for Stingrays], which do not involve a court’s approval,” American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Staff Attorney Nathan Wessler said. “The Justice Department should take action to ensure that these violations end by limiting such exigency requests only to actual emergencies.”
Stingrays mimic legitimate cell towers, Wessler explained, forcing phones to transmit unique identifying information that allows law enforcement agents to precisely locate people’s cell phones.
“Federal law enforcement’s move toward using warrants for this invasive technology is welcome and long overdue, as is the promise of increased transparency. But major questions remain,” Wessler noted.
The recent spike in FBI emergency requests to cellphone providers for suspect location data exposes the fact that agents are abusing their privileges, he argued.
Wessler also noted that the Justice Department has been hesitant to reveal information for fear of giving “ammunition” to defense lawyers in cases where warrants were not used.
“If that is so, the promise of greater transparency is a sham,” Wessler claimed, referring to the Justice Department’s promises to be more open about the use of surveillance technology.
Maintaining secrecy until pending cases have concluded will perpetuate the government’s outrageous conduct, not ameliorate it, Wessler concluded.
In early April, 2015, the ACLU reported that the Erie County Sheriff’s Office in New York used Stingrays at least 47 times from 2010 to 2014, although it obtained a court order on only one occasion.
In November 2014, the US Marshals Service was exposed for using aircraft-mounted devices that mimicked cell towers and indiscriminately scooped data from cellphones.