Silent sting - Page 2

To find criminal suspects, federal agents use a device that tracks everyone else too


The US Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that the use of a pen register is "not a search under the Fourth Amendment," Susan Freiwald, a law professor at the University of San Francisco, told us. That means law-enforcement agents don't need a full-scale search warrant. And court orders permitting pen-register wiretaps are "really easy to get," Friewald explained.

To secure a judge's blessing, law enforcement agents need only to submit complete applications and show that the phone numbers dialed are "relevant" to an investigation.

Kane's email, dated in 2011, is significant because it suggests that "many agents" were using Stingrays for investigations after clearing only the low hurdle of court approval for a pen register. "The federal government was routinely using Stingray technology in the field, but failing to make that explicit in its applications to the court to engage in electronic surveillance," ACLU Staff Attorney Linda Lye wrote in a recent blog post. "When the magistrate judges in the Northern District of California finally found out what was happening, they expressed 'collective concerns,' according to the emails."

The revelation is closely tied to an electronic surveillance case that's currently making its way through court, most recently prompting the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation to file an amicus brief challenging the constitutionality of a Stingray use.


It all began back in 2008, when FBI agents used the technology to track down a hacker and alleged fraudster named Daniel David Rigmaiden — a guy who sometimes goes by an alias, represented himself in court, and seems to possess enough technical savvy and disposable income to challenge his prosecutors at every turn.

Through discovery proceedings, Rigmaiden "managed to get the government to admit that it has used this location tracking technology to find him," Lye noted. "That is quite extraordinary, because there have been suspicions that that this device has been around and in use for quite a long time, but there are really very few cases where we talk about it, and this is the only criminal case where the government has plainly admitted to using it to locate a suspect."

Because FBI agents used a Stingray to locate Rigmaiden, they not only figured out that he was inside a Santa Clara apartment building, but successfully sniffed down to the level of his exact unit.

But the request for court orders that authorized this investigation made only a fleeting mention of a mobile tracking device, without conveying just how powerful the surveillance tool actually is. "When we read the orders, we were very, very surprised and troubled," Lye said. "Because the government was arguing in the criminal proceeding in Rigmaiden, yes, we acknowledge that we've used this cell site emulator, and we're even ... acknowledging that the device is intrusive enough in the way it operates to constitute a search — which is a significant concession."

In this case, the FBI agents obtained a court order to use a pen register, and separately obtained court approval to solicit Verizon's help in locating Rigmaiden, which the government claims constituted a warrant (though this is a point of contention). But nowhere did agents make it clear to the judge that in order to work, this surveillance device vacuums up vast amounts of third-party data. The search potentially affected hundreds of subscribers in Rigmaiden's apartment complex, none of whom were suspected of any involvement in wrongdoing. The government noted in court filings that it purged the third-party data after the fact, presumably as a way to deflect privacy concerns.


because I am doing nothing wrong AND that this may help to apprehend criminals and terrorists.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2013 @ 6:21 am

In fact, if the police receive reports of a criminal in the area, I think they should go further. Let's say it's an apartment complex. I wouldn't mind if they cordoned off the area completely and did a door to door search of everyone, including full body cavity searches if necessary. I have nothing to hide, so I have nothing to fear. And in the process they'll catch they criminal more efficiently. A report of a criminal should never be taken lightly.

Posted by anon on Apr. 10, 2013 @ 6:37 am
Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2013 @ 8:48 am

I think they should use drones to randomly look into people's windows to catch criminals. I remember reading in a book about a society where police helicopters go around randomly looking into windows, and everybody had a two-way "telescreen" in their apartment that the government could use to monitor the household for crime. I remember thinking "what a brilliant idea!" I bet that kind of society would have very little crime. Those who have nothing to hide, have nothing to fear.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2013 @ 6:41 am

I can't believe what I am reading here!I can't believe the comments either,they must be joking right??Ok with body cavity searches,thats a joke right?Either these folks are very nieve and actually trust a capitalist government to ,''do the right thing,haha,now thats a joke really,'' or they have had a silverspoon in their lifes forever....Our gov. is one of the most corrupt ones now-a-days since our ancestors split England,,which is exactly why they split England,,,,Which is y their collective wisdom knew what to write in the Constittution..I further realized how screwy our country had become,whilest watching a game show called r u smarter then a 5th grader..They had a principle on as 1 of the contestance,a principle mind u,of grades k-8,,,when it came to answerring question regarding North,South,East,or West,I believe the question was,which state is further North then tennesse?,Maine,,,,,,,Alabama,,,,or Texas,,,This principle answerred Texas,,,r u kidding me??!!!!!When the host asked her,y,,would u say Texas,,she replied I have no idea where N,S.E.W, is,,,I use Garmin,,,,,,,r u kidding me,,,This woman is in charge of our childrens education,what r they teaching you guys now-a-days?I believe they r teaching ,''follow the leader,blindly,,,question no-one or nothing./..What if your so-called theory,,i have done nothing to be fearful of arrest backfires..What if that official searching you falsely claims he found a joint in your pocket,and claims you are a drug addict..outright lies,,,which has and does happen every single day in America,,,then what??Or that drone gets enter'd the wrong address and shots and kills a family of 3????Then what??We are all humans,inperfect humans,we alll make mistakes,,thats how we learn,,,,but my privacy,my creditbilty,my good name being destroyed over a ,''mistake'',,,,is no-ones right to take away from me!!!!!Paita

Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2013 @ 8:09 am

I hope the people above are joking. Well, maybe not. San Francisco is full of liberals who hate the Constitution.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 14, 2013 @ 10:28 pm

Liberals here hate the constitution, America and cops.

But they love criminals and the homeless.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 15, 2013 @ 7:23 am

About what property of the camera do the liberals whine, that possessive apostrophe on camera threw me off.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 15, 2013 @ 8:07 am

rather than this "Guest" who merely noted that it is not unusual for liberals to dislike cops and the constitution.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 15, 2013 @ 9:14 am

acts. Or helped apprehend the perps.

Today's tragedy puts this debate in perspective, I believe.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 15, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

I don't mind, I have nothing to hide. I am still free to write the paper, put out a sign, speak my mind. Yes they can't take a sneak peek, I have nothing hide.

Yes if the government got word of a plan attack or any other kind of trouble. I would expect them to turn off the phones.

We live in a day where rules and laws should be in place to sneak a peek, with computers, cell phones and other devices. We need to.

Posted by Garrett on Apr. 16, 2013 @ 5:33 pm

as "liberal" with the attitudes you express proves how fucked our society has become.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 16, 2013 @ 5:46 pm

Related articles

  • Stealing secret records about government spying used to be way more complicated

  • You can't see me

    High concept anti-surveillance fashion finds mass appeal

  • All eyes on us

    The NSA surveillance scandal is rooted in the Bay Area. Who was involved, when did it start -- and how can you protect your privacy?