I’ve written previously on this blog regarding stingray devices: powerful surveillance tools which allow law enforcement agents to spy on the cell phones of unsuspecting Americans, often without judicial or legislative oversight.
For a deeper dive into the subject, I’ve put together a policy analysis detailing the past history, present issues, and future prospects of stingray devices and police surveillance more generally.
From the executive summary:
Police agencies around the United States are using a powerful surveillance tool to mimic cell phone signals to tap into the cellular phones of unsuspecting citizens, track the physical locations of those phones, and perhaps even intercept the content of their communications.
The device is known as a stingray, and it is being used in at least 23 states and the District of Columbia. Originally designed for use on the foreign battlefields of the War on Terror, “cell-site simulator” devices have found a home in the arsenals of dozens of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
In addition, police agencies have gone to incredible lengths to keep information about stingray use from defense attorneys, judges, and the public. Through the use of extensive nondisclosure agreements, the federal government prevents state and local law enforcement from disclosing even the most elementary details of stingray capability and use. That information embargo even applies to criminal trials, and allows the federal government to order evidence withheld or entire cases dropped to protect the secrecy of the surveillance device.
The controversy around police stingray surveillance challenges our antiquated Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, undermines our cherished principles of federalism and separation of powers, exposes a lack of accountability and transparency among our law enforcement agencies, and raises serious questions about the security of our individual rights as the government’s technological capability rapidly advances.
The full analysis can be found here.
The interaction of law enforcement and surveillance technology promises to be one of the most important civil liberties issues of the near future. Our current privacy jurisprudence is sorely outdated and often inapplicable to the issues presented by modern technology and law enforcement practices.
Whether we’re talking about cell phone tracking, persistent aerial surveillance, or nationwide biometric databasing, the ability of the government to invade and regulate the most intimate spheres of our lives continues to grow. It is incumbent on policymakers and jurists to ensure that our legal framework and constitutional principles keep pace with these growing threats to our privacy.
For more on stingray surveillance, Cato will be hosting a policy forum on February 15, including remarks from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who has authored legislation attempting to rein in surveillance abuses.