The Big Secret Surrounding Stingray Surveillance


Given the amount of mobile phone traffic that cell phone towers transmit, it's no wonder law enforcement agencies target these devices as a rich source of data to aid their investigations. Standard procedure involves getting a court order to obtain phone records from a wireless carrier. When authorities can't or don't want to go that route, they can set up a simulated cell phone tower — often called a stingray — that secretly gathers information from the suspects in question, as well as any other mobile device in the area. However, the secretive nature of stingray use has begun to backfire on law enforcement, with states beginning to pass laws that require police to obtain a warrant before they can set up a fake cell phone tower for surveillance. Virginia, Minnesota, Utah and Washington State now have laws regulating stingray use, with California and Texas considering similar measures. Proposed federal legislation to prevent the government from tracking people’s cell phone or GPS location without a warrant could also include stingray technology.