You probably already know by now, that the feds track us someway somehow, but there is one way that is just plain uncomfortable and scary. Stingrays are their name, according to a Motherboard article, and Stingrays are cell tower simulators. Yes, they are pretty much fake cell phone towers.
This technology is used by almost all sectors of law enforcement, from FBI to local police departments, per a USA Today article from 2013. What the Stingrays do is, force all cell phones in that are to connect to it before rerouting them to real cell towers. By doing that, the Stingrays pick up all cellular data (Ex. location calls, messages, and IP address), and with that data law enforcemnet can track and build a profile.
Invasive don't you think? Violation of the 4th Amendemnt, don't you think? The FBI went as far as trying to hide the existence of this technology from the public until they got called out in it. It didn't take long after that, and in February of 2015, the FBI publically admitted they and others use Stingrays.
Per that same Motherboard article, here's FBI Director James Comey admitting it:
Comey goes on to defend its use, and it does make sense, but that's if you believe he's honest. Comey explains how the tech is used to help catch criminals and track terrorists, but what about all the other data the Stingrays collect? What about all the people who aren't criminals or terrorists that are unknowingly, without their consent, having their data sucked up by law enforcement? Why is it legal for the government to have a device that forces cell phones to connect to the Stingrays before connecting them to real cell towers?
Intrusive? Definitely. Violation of the 4th Amendment? It sure seems that way. Per Cornell:
Reading this you'd say, Stingrays clearly violate that, but notice nothing in there states digital devices such as telephones. However! In the dictionary the third noun definition of "effect" is personal belongings, and a cell phone is a personal belonging.
A quick Google search, returned many results of court cases against Stingray use, and even FCC complaints against Baltimore Police using the technology. The Baltimore Sun reported on this back in August, and the complaint was basically telling the FCC to "remind" police to follow the rules and hope to put an end to this.
That's another thing, what about the FCC? They regulate the very medium Stingrays use. That same Baltimore Sun article cites a FCC spokesman Neil Grace, and Grace said "The commission expects state and local law enforcement to work through the appropriate and legal processes to use these devices." Meaning they can still use them, and the FCC probably already knew. That's said because these devices have to use spectrum to operate, unless they're opertaing on someone elses spectrum or government held spectrum.
What about interference with other telecommunications in the area? Couldn't Stingrays do that if enough are operating in the same area? What about users trying to make a call or send a message, and these Stingrays drop it and/or delay it? Isn't that wrong too? Very unethical, and as stated above pretty unlawful. The FCC, if they don't know anything about Stingrays, probably could do more research and answer questions like those. Also at the end of the day, besides Congress, they have the authority to strike Stingrays down. What about the possibility of Stingrays being stolen or misused for hacking and identity theft? This technology could be devestating to people if fallen into the wrong hands.
Congress though, it wasn't until yesterday when a US House Oversight Committee held a hearing on this, and found out some pretty eye opening information.
One thing was The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice own about 400 Stingrays. The second thing is DHS and DOJ have spent about $95 million on cell phone tracking technology, all per The Washington Times. Federal agencies have 400 devices, and who knows how many local agencies have them, unless they get them from the DOJ. Spooky and Orwellian stuff here.
The report in that same Washington Times article, concluded that Congress wants to work on limiting use and ensuring citizens rights aren't violated. This also seems like Congress is gearing up for some sort of debate, or legislation on this. Hopefully people like, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), can gain traction in their houses and get legislation that really limits use of Stingrays.
It has been ruled that warrants are needed for obtaining the information from these devices, but there needs to a law or regulation limting the use of Stingrays in the first place. There are no local, state, or federal law against these devices, and there is no FCC regulation against them. Now to their defense, the feds tried hiding this tech for years, but surely some in all branches of government and FCC knew about it.
With Republicans controlling the House, Senate, and White House, legislation against Stingrays shouldn't be hard to pass. Now, this technology does serve a critical purpose, but it violates peoples 4th Amendment rights. Remember, not every person is a suspect or a terrorist, but technology like this is necessary, just not by forcing every persons cell phone to unknowingly give all it's data to a fake cell tower.
There needs to be FCC regulations, and there needs to be legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump. The law needs to look a little like "Only under suspicion of criminal or terroristic intent, can the use of cell tower simulators be warranted. All information can only be searched and devices can only be seized with a court issued warrant." That would put an end to every citizen, without their consent, having all their data sucked up by law enforcement.
The FCC regulation would have to focus on spectrum use and where and when cell tower simulators could be used. There are no regulations or rules for their use. Maybe wireless carriers like Verizon, AT&T, and even those like Google, Apple, and Qualcomm could create technology that would counter Stingrays. They probably won't though, because that would land them in federal courts being sued by law enforcement agencies. Samsung would be a good candidate because they're a South Korean company, but why would they? They'd still get sued as well, and it'd lead into a bigger mess, but it's for the people at the end of the day.
Liberty and privacy is what makes a open and free society great, but there are those who wish to do harm that make others, like law enforcement, violate our liberty and privacy. This technology could even fall into the wrong hands and harm people by hacking and theft. This technology needs to be regulated and legislation needs to be written to limit this and protect the American citizen. We should hope that it won't be long until action is taken, and a better way to track criminals and thwart attacks comes along.