Photo: Flickr/Ed Yourdon
The FBI employs a sophisticated portable spy device even though it’s concerned the practice might be illegal, Ryan Gallagher of Slate reports.The “cell-site simulator” technology, called Stingray, dupes nearby phones into jumping onto a fake network to locate, interfere with, or intercept communications from cell phones and other wireless devices.
The FBI says it uses the device to track targeted groups or individuals and not to intercept communications.
But a court affidavit obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information centre (EPIC) reveals that an FBI agent admitted Stingray routinely collects data on “innocent, non-target devices” and can disrupt phone users’ service.
In the case (U.S. v. Rigmaiden), the government admitted that the technology is “sufficiently intrusive to constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment if Defendant has a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Gallagher notes that recently released internal FBI documents state that both the agency and the Justice Department (DOJ) believe the tool may violate the Communications Act since it prohibits “interference” with communication signals.
Butler told Slate that the documents indicate that “there are clearly concerns, even within the agency, that the use of Stingray technology might be inconsistent with current regulations.”
Nevertheless, FOIA requests by LA Weekly revealed that the FBI not only uses Stingray, but it loans the tool out to several police departments across the country.
“I don’t know how the DOJ justifies the use of Stingrays given the limitations of the Communications Act prohibition,” Butler told Slate.
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