International Business Times reporter Jeff Stone sought analysis from Buffalo, New York, criminal defense and constitutional law attorney Barry Covert, of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria, for an article reporting that police departments in 18 states are using technology called Stingray to track individual cell phones.
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Stingray is intended to be used in the local war on terror, but The International Business Times reports it is also being used for non-terrorism investigations. Police departments told The Times they aren’t allowed to talk about their use of the technology. In fact, a letter from the FBI to a police chief in Tacoma, Washington, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, states that the FCC authorizes the sale of Stingray only if municipal departments agree to sign an FBI non-disclosure agreement.
“I think what scares citizens the most is either the intentional or unintentional statements about this technology made by the authorities,” said Barry Covert, a Buffalo, New York, attorney who criticized the local police for relying on Stingrays for everyday investigations. “Now people who are not the target of these investigations have been compromised, and we’re relying on the discretion of the law enforcement agency without any judicial approval or supervision. The Fourth Amendment doesn’t say you can take all this information and comb through it later.”
Stingray’s technology works by mimicking a cell phone tower so that individual cell phones reach out to it, giving police the ability to search large areas for a specific cell phone’s unique “ping.” The Stingray device is described as a suitcase-size metal box costing as much as $400,000 each, with the federal government covering the cost for police departments that say they need a Stingray to investigate potential local terrorists.
Mr. Stone notes in the article that at least 43 police agencies in 18 states have Stingrays and that they are used for a variety of criminal investigations that range from drug crimes to violent offenses. The article quotes a police spokesman in Georgia saying that Stingray is used “in criminal investigations with no restrictions on the type of crime.”
Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are challenging the secret use of Stingray by police departments, and privacy advocates are calling on the government to watch police departments that they say are violating Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. These and other legal challenges combined with increasing media attention are likely bring the issue increasingly out into the open, the article notes.
Mr. Covert is known for his uncompromising representation of clients in the areas of constitutional law, including First Amendment, civil rights actions, and federal False Claims Act; New York State and federal criminal trials and appeals; defending against allegations of scientific misconduct and fraud, research misconduct and fraud, plagiarism, and fabrication of evidence; and professional licensing defense.