The Justice Department announced a policy that will require its law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant to deploy a StingRay, a cellphone-tracking devices in criminal investigations and inform judges when they plan to use them, reported the Washington Post. The Justice Department policy does not apply to other departments or overseas investigations by the FBI and other agencies.
The new policy should increase transparency around the use of the controversial technology by the FBI and other Justice Department agencies. It imposes the highest legal standard for the device’s use and a uniform standard across the department.
The policy change is an acknowledgment by the Justice Department that the use of the devices — sometimes called StingRays, the name of one popular model — raises serious privacy concerns.
The devices are boxes about the size of a small suitcase that can help investigators locate suspects by identifying signals coming from their cellphones. But the machines, which simulate cell towers, also sweep up data from innocent bystanders in the suspect’s vicinity.
The data captured by the devices are serial numbers from cellphones, not GPS coordinates. The technology used by federal authorities does not capture e-mails, texts, contact lists, images or any other data from the phone, officials said.
Such devices have also been deployed on planes flown by the U.S. Marshals Service in pursuit of criminal suspects. Other federal agencies that have purchased the equipment include the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
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