A possible federal ban on warrantless StingRay use?

We’ve got promising news on the Fourth Amendment front: Last week, a federal bill regulating StingRay (otherwise known as a cell-site simulator) use was introduced in Congress with the help of Representative Ted Lieu and Senator Ron Wyden with Senator Steve Daines and Representative Tom McClintock. We’ve been waiting patiently for this bill to get introduced, as it effectively bans law enforcement from using StingRays without the express permission of a judge. Warrants can be a sticky subject when it comes to StingRays: law enforcement often doesn’t like to actually obtain express permission from courts to use the highly invasive surveillance tech—especially if obtaining a warrant will reveal too much about how the technology works. Federal law enforcement will often push for dismissal of cases if it becomes clear that going through with the case will reveal specifics about how StingRays are used and operate. We’ve seen the DOJ coaching local police departments on how to keep cell-site simulator capabilities secret from the public (and judges!) and defendants often not being told a StingRay was used to collect evidence in their cases. Most commonly, law enforcement obtains “pen register” or “trap and trace” orders that do not require probable cause when seeking to use StingRays, obfuscating the very real and very harmful effects of this surveillance tech—including its ability to disrupt calls to emergency services and sweep up bystanders’ information. This results in judges approving StingRay usage without a full appreciation of what will be searched or seized

Obviously, this raises a whole host of problematic Constitutional implications; from violating the Fourth Amendment all the way to the Sixth Amendment—which guarantees certain trial rights. Please tell your congressperson to support The Cell-Site Simulator Act of 2021. You can write them a letter here.

You can also learn more about StingRay surveillance by reading our explainer here.

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