To find criminal suspects, federal agents use a device that tracks everyone else too
"It did not explain that the device broadcasts signals to all devices in the area, receives information about other devices in the possession of third parties, potentially disrupts the connections of third-party devices, and penetrates the walls of every private residence in the vicinity, not solely that of the target," the ACLU-EFF brief argues.
At the end of March, Lye argued in an Arizona federal court hearing that evidence gathered using a Stingray should be suppressed in the Rigmaiden case, because the government used the tracking tool but failed to tell the federal magistrate judge that it was doing so. But in the course of that hearing, "the government stated ... that 'use of these devices is a very common practice,'" Lye note in an update following the hearing. "It also stated that there were many parts of the country in which the FBI successfully obtains authorization to use this device through a trap and trace [pen register] order."
Nor is it just federal agencies that use these surveillance tools. The results of a FOIA request filed by a Los Angeles journalist with the assistance of the First Amendment Coalition revealed that LAPD used this technology in 21 out of 155 cell phone investigation cases — from June to September of last year alone. The devices were used to investigate five homicide cases and a roster of other offenses, including a burglary, a narcotics investigation, two suicides, a robbery and three kidnappings.
For civil liberties advocates, the aim is to require stronger judicial oversight and a warrant before this kind of surveillance practice can be used. "The argument here is about, well this technology is so powerful and so intrusive — it really needs to be under extensive oversight by members of the judiciary," notes Friewald, the law professor. "And in order for that to happen, the judge needs to have that technology described to them."