Compliance Management, Privacy

Congressional committee report recommends Stingray legislation

The Department of Justice alone spent more than $71 million in fiscal years 2010-14 on cell-site simulation technology and has 310 cell-site simulation devices while the Department of Homeland Security spent $24 million on the technology during the same time period and owns 124 of the devices, a report released Monday by the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Reform found. 

The Law Enforcement Use of Cell-Site Simulation Technologies: Privacy Concerns and Recommendations report reviewed the domestic use of Stingray surveillance technology across the country by federal, state and local law enforcement to ensure its uses didn't violate protections afforded under the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The report also noted that before DOJ and DHS issued their new and enhanced policies for the use of cell-site simulators—which now require a warrant supported by probable cause—federal law enforcement agencies had varying policies and most relied on a lower-than-probable cause standard for use of these devices in most, but not all, situations, the report said.

Concerning use of the technology, state laws continue to vary as to what court authorization is required before law enforcement can deploy cell-site simulators and that several states have passed laws requiring law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant or order based on probable cause before deploying cell-site simulators, with varying exceptions.

While the committee acknowledged that Stingray technologies represent a valuable law enforcement tool that has been used to investigate a wide range of criminal activity including human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, kidnapping, and to assist in the apprehension of dangerous and violent fugitives, officials concluded that the technology use should be limited, and that a high degree of transparency is critical.

Officials recommended that Congress pass legislation to establish a clear, nationwide framework for when and how geolocation information obtained from the technology can be accessed and used.

In addition they said that all law enforcement agencies should be candid with the courts concerning their use of the stingray technology.

The committee provided a list of recommendations which included the DOJ and DHS making federal funding or approval of stingray technology contingent on a requirement that the law enforcement agencies at a minimum adopt the new and enhanced guidelines that have been promulgated by DOJ and DHS for the use of these devices. Officials also called of the replacement of the non-disclosure agreements with agreements that require clarity and can candor to the court whenever the devices are used in criminal investigations.

“Individual states should enact legislation that governs how law enforcement uses cell-site simulation technology,” the report said. “Legislation should require, with limited exceptions, issuance of a probable cause based warrant prior to law enforcement's use of these devices.”

In addition the committee recommended that the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), which reportedly owns a device but has yet to use it, consider decommissioning the device. 

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