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Legal Issues: New Technology That Invades Your Privacy

Law enforcement agencies are always trying to be on the cutting edge of technology to assist in investigations and tracking suspects. The latest development is a cell site simulator, commonly known as “StingRay.” Other names associated with this technology include KingFish, IMSI catcher, triggerfish and digital analyzer. The StingRay typically is the size of a briefcase. The device mimics a carrier’s cellphone towers and forces all cellphones in the area to communicate with it as if it were the cellular tower. With this device, law enforcement can locate, interfere with, and intercept communications from cell phones and other wireless devices.

The information that is available from a cell site simulator is staggering. The device is hooked up to a laptop computer and law enforcement can use the information to determine the phone’s precise location using triangulation. Furthermore, these devices are capable of capturing the content of communications, such as voice calls and text messages. Since the device forces all wireless devices in the area to connect, the information intercepted includes that of unintended targets.

Despite the clear intrusion of privacy this device allows, law enforcement agencies do not need to get permission from the cellular carriers prior to utilizing the StingRay. More troubling is the fact that most law enforcement agencies are not obtaining a warrant. Furthermore, the agencies that do attempt to obtain a search warrant disguise the request using a modified pen register or trap-and-trace orders. Trial court’s that are not aware of this technology typically grant these orders not realizing the true intentions of law enforcement and the level of intrusion the order allows.

Law enforcement agencies are going through great lengths to protect these devices and their use. Typically police officers refuse to answer questions regarding the apparent use of the system claiming that the matter is one of national security or that they are prohibited from disclosing based upon a nondisclosure agreement that the manufacturers require. Prosecutors are also attempting to protect the information by dismissing charges or agreeing to a reduced charge when defense attorneys begin challenging the use of the StingRay.

To effectively attack the unconstitutional use of this technology, defense attorneys first need to be aware that this system exists and is commonly being used by law enforcement. Second, defense attorneys need to carefully review the discovery and look into how law enforcement obtained certain information. If such review raises a red flag for the attorney, depositions should be scheduled to closely analyze whether such device was used. If a defense attorney can identify that this technology was used, a good result for the client will likely follow.

Written by:
Russell W. Brown, Jr.
Attorney At Law
9211 Broadway
Merrillville, IN 46410

Posted: 9/30/2015

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