Two U.S. Senators attempting to investigate government use of cellphone interceptors, commonly referred to as “Stingrays,” have confirmed that no search warrants are obtained when FBI agents use the devices in public.
Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) discovered the startling information last year during a private briefing in which agency officials laid out a list of warrant exemptions.
In a letter to Homeland Security Chief Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder, both Senators expressed their concerns over the wildly broad exemptions and questioned whether seperate government agencies were following the same policy.
For example, we understand that the FBI’s new policy requires FBI agents to obtain a search warrant whenever a cell-site simulator is used as part of a FBI investigation or operation, unless one of several exceptions apply, including (among others): (1) cases that pose an imminent danger to public safety, (2) cases that involve a fugitive, or (3) cases in which the technology is used in public places or other locations at which the FBI deems there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.
Regardless of the guideline, the FBI has failed to explain how they protect cell users on private property when bulk collecting in public.
“We have concerns about the scope of the exceptions,” the letter states. “Specifically, we are concerned about whether the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have adequately considered the privacy interests of other individuals who are not the targets of the interception, but whose information is nevertheless being collected when these devices are being used.”
The letter goes on to demand answers on how often the FBI and other agencies use Stingrays and what, if any, safeguards are in place to protect the data of innocent Americans.
“Across all DOJ and DHS entities, what protections exist to safeguard the privacy interests of individuals who are not the targets of interception, but whose information is nevertheless being collected by cell-site simulators?” the letter asks.
Despite claims from government entities that Stingrays are only used to investigate high-profile crimes, continued exposure on the topic proves the complete opposite to be true.
Police scanner audio obtained by the hacktivist group Anonymous last month appeared to reveal that Chicago police were using a Stingray to intercept phone calls from an Eric Garner protester.
A police department in Washington state, which claimed that it only used a Stingray to investigate crimes such as homicide, rape and kidnapping, used the device to track a missing city laptop according to a report last August.
City Council members who initially approved the department’s acquisition of the Stingray were told by police that the device was simply for “detecting IEDs,” ignoring the device’s main purpose regarding cell data.
Law enforcement groups in California have already begun applying for even more powerful cell interceptors known as “Hailstorms.”
On the federal level, government agencies have gone as far as equipping airplanes with cell interceptors to harvest cellular data from the sky.
Despite the federal government’s best attempts to hide its surveillance activities from judges, the public and the Legislative, Americans for the first time are beginning to realize the scope of the US surveillance state.