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Stingray Surveillance: Are Your Calls Being Monitored?

March 26, 2018 3 min read

Stingray Surveillance: Are Your Calls Being Monitored?

What is a Stingray?

A Stingray is an eavesdropping device that mimics cell phone towers and tricks cell phones into transmitting all their data, locations, and identity of the user to this device instead of to the cell tower. A Stingray, also known as an “IMSI-Catcher” or “Cell Site Simulator”, intercepts and tracks cell phones’ traffic and activity including location, phone calls, and text messages. 

What is the main purpose of stingray surveillance in a government setting?

The main purpose of Stingray surveillance is to intercept and track suspects and criminals’ phone activity and locations. At first glance, this investigative strategy seems appropriate and the most efficient way to catch criminals. This surveillance device allows law enforcement to sweep through messages, conversations, and calls of all cell phone users in the area.

 The big issue with Stingrays and IMSI-catchers is that these devices pick up and intercepts everyone's cell activity from the designated area, not just the suspect's cell phone activity. The police or government agency rummage through all the information retrieved and this is a big privacy breach for the cell phone users who's information were exposed. Stingrays don't selectively intercept information. This surveillance device has to intercept all cell phone users' data. The general public has to involuntarily and unknowningy handover their confidential information. This is why Stingrays have been a controversial topic. This device is efficient in taking down criminals and helping maintain order. The downside is it strips us of our rights to privacy and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. 

According to the ACLU, 73 agencies in 25 states own and use Stingray devices. This can be a vast understatement with how many agencies actually utilize Stingray devices. The FBI had signed a nondisclosure agreement of the purchases of this equipment creating an unknown amount of Stingray devices in the United States. In 2011-2014 alone, it is known there were around 190 documented purchases of Stingrays from the FBI alone. Like the FBI, most agencies and law enforcement try to keep these purchases private and under the radar. 

What about the general public?

The huge concern here is that innocent bystanders are being affected by this type of surveillance. When police or agencies use this eavesdropping device, it reroutes everyone’s cell phones to their Stingray device. This means local police or agencies now have access to all your previous texts, pictures, videos, and all relevant data from your phone.

This is a huge breach in privacy. Stingrays are highly intrusive devices and goes against our 4th Amendment right protecting us from unreasonable search and seizure. In the digital age, the 4th Amendment is responsible for protecting us from invasive devices and technologies that have the capabilities to retrieve and track phone data and activity.

Reform is on the way!

With this being stated, many states are restructuring and reforming how law enforcement and agencies are able to use Stingray surveillance. States like California, Utah, and Virginia require a warrant for Stingray surveillance which is a definite step in the right direction. The more transparency with the use, protocol, and procedures of this device the better we can weigh out the benefits and drawbacks of this surveillance. Government officials and American Civil Liberties Union are working together to find the appropriate balance of protecting our privacy as well as our general security. Currently, procedures are being put in place for law enforcement to try other investigative tactics first or show proof that these tactics will fail before allowing the use of a Stingray device. This procedure will make sure that law enforcement is only using this device when absolutely necessary. This will help protect the general public’s privacy while still effectively protecting us. Surprisingly enough, there currently are no laws and regulations on a federal level for the use of Stingrays.


To read "How To Block GPS Tracking On Your Smart Phone", click here.

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