The FBI has decided that “court warrants are not required when deploying cell-site simulators in public places,” Ars Technica reports.
These simulators are nicknamed “Stingrays,” and they look like cell phone towers.
Instead, they are able to access data from cell phones being used nearby.
There has been much debate about whether accessing this data without the knowledge of the cell phone user is a violation of privacy.
Ars reports that,
The FBI made its position known during private briefings with staff members of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). In response, the two lawmakers wrote Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson, maintaining they were “concerned about whether the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have adequately considered the privacy interests” of Americans.
The letter from the congressmen describes what they know and don’t know about how the FBI uses Stingray towers. We have bolded the key phrases:
For example, we understand that the FBI’s new policy requires FBI agents to obtain a search warrant whenever a cell-site simulator is used as part of a FBI investigation or operation, unless one of several exceptions apply, including (among others): (1) cases that pose an imminent danger to public safety, (2) cases that involve a fugitive, or (3) cases in which the technology is used in public places or other locations at which the FBI deems there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.
What does this mean?
Basically, that if you use your phone outside, the FBI assumes you’re not expecting to have any privacy. So it’s OK for a Stingray tower to tap your data.
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