Police in the U.S., as well as in other countries like Canada, have been using surveillance devices and “stingray tracking devices” to identify criminals and other suspicious activities. However, this has become a topic of debate as attorneys acting for crime suspects have raised the issue that use of these surveillance devices is breaking the law.
According to attorneys representing gang members and their associates, use of these devices is unlawful as it violates the rights of the individuals. Various memos and reports have been issued in this regard. One RCMP internal memo revealed that police are using the controversial machine, also known as Stingray, IMSI catcher, Wolfpack, cell site simulators or a mobile device identifier. The use of an RCMP expert with one of the devices was initiated in a 2014 case when a detective probing a street gang persuaded a judge to allow the use of this device.
Based on how criminals are caught, it is clear that police have been secretly using these machines for years. However, the use of these devices has never been made public apart from in one or two cases. Lawyers are of the opinion that the device is run at the risk of offending laws that govern privacy and the public air-waves. Read on to know more how the Stingray works.
The surveillance devices simulate cell phone towers in order to trick nearby mobile phones into connecting to them and revealing the phones’ locations. It is able to capture identifying data associated with all mobile phones in the area, which proves helpful when police have to zero in on a suspect.
Based on documents obtained by the ACLU recently, the controversial devices are also able to record numbers for a mobile phone’s incoming and outgoing calls. They are also able to intercept the content available in voice and text communications. There may also be a possibility of flashing a phone’s firmware in order to intercept conversations using a suspect’s cell phone as a bug.
A look at press reports and publicly available documents reveals that stingray tracking devices are being used by state as well as local police departments. A total of 66 federal agencies have been identified by the ACLU that own stingrays. These agencies are located in 24 states, as well as the District of Columbia. Since many agencies use stingrays in secrecy, these numbers may be dramatically unrepresented when compared to the actual use of stingrays by law enforcement agencies nationwide.
The devices have been used numerous times secretly without obtaining a warrant. They have also been used to deceive courts about the nature of the technology in order to obtain orders from the court to use it. Many law enforcement agencies using these devices have also resorted to extreme measures to prevent groups like the ACLU from obtaining documents about the technology.
In 2008, guidelines prepared and released by the Justice Department advise law enforcement agents on how and when the surveillance equipment can be legally used. These documents not only provide the police guidelines, but they also provide templates required to submit requests to courts to obtain permission to use the technology.
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