Derrick Broze October 26, 2015
At a congressional hearing last Wednesday, officials with the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security released new details about the federal government’s use of “Stingray” cellphone surveillance. Stingrays, also known as cell site simulators, constitute another example of military tools finding their way into the hands of federal agencies and local police departments across the United States.
“The Stingray is a brand name of an IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) Catcher targeted and sold to law enforcement. A Stingray works by masquerading as a cellphone tower – to which your mobile phone sends signals to every 7 to 15 seconds whether you are on a call or not – and tricks your phone into connecting to it. As a result, the government can figure out who, when and to where you are calling, the precise location of every device within the range, and with some devices, even capture the content of your conversations.”
Elana Tyrangiel, a deputy assistant attorney at the Justice Department, told lawmakers the particular cell site simulators employed by the DOJ do not collect the content of calls. The devices do, however, collect location and the number being dialed.
Much of the discussion at the hearing centered around the use of warrants. In early September, the Justice Department announced rulesabout how the department will handle the use of Stingrays, including new warrant requirements. After the rules were announced, Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking member on the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, challenged the warrant exemptions and the overall effectiveness of the rules. According to the District Sentinel, Leahy stated, “I will press the Department to justify them.”
As of last week, the Department of Homeland Security is now following similar rules. Officials warned Congress the devices would be used without obtaining warrants in “time-sensitive, emergency situations.”
California Congressman Ted Lieu, a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told CNN he believes “The mass surveillance of peoples’ [sic] cell phone signals requires a warrant.”
The AP reports that during the hearing, Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Seth M. Stodder revealed a new policy that allows the Secret Service to use cell site simulators without a warrant if they believe there is a “nonspecific threat to the president or another protected person.”