End the Lie

Use of secretive ‘Stingray’ FBI cell phone tracking tool ruled lawful by judge

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By End the Lie

(Image credit: rmuser/Flickr)

(Image credit: rmuser/Flickr)

Despite the fact that the FBI was accused of hiding information from judges when obtaining authorization for use of the secretive “Stingray” cell phone tracking device, a judge has ruled that the use of the device by federal agents was lawful.

This case could quite unfortunately have wide-ranging effects on how the government conducts the type of dragnet surveillance enabled by the Stingray device.

Interestingly, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) also recently received a new batch of documents from the FBI about the Stingray.

On Wednesday, Judge David Campbell dismissed the motion to suppress the information gathered through the Stingray device in the case of Daniel Rigmaiden.

Campbell refused to dismiss the motion even though the ACLU pointed out in an amicus brief that by “failing to apprise the magistrate that it intended to use a stingray, what the device is, and how it works, it prevented the judge from exercising his constitutional function of ensuring that warrants are not overly intrusive and all aspects of the search are supported by probable cause.”

This is precisely the issue that has been raised in previous coverage of this technology.

Campbell ruled that the warrant was valid and the suspect “did not have an expectation of privacy society is willing to accept as legitimate.”

According to Campbell, since Rigmaiden allegedly rented the apartment and purches the computer fraudulently using false identities, Rigmaiden could not “credibly argue that he had a legitimate expectation of privacy.”

While that ruling is quite understandable, it gets troubling when one realizes that Campbell’s ruling goes much further.

Campbell ruled that the use of the Stingray did not in fact constitute a “severe intrusion” and ruled that “no Fourth Amendment violation occurred.”

The ACLU said that this ruling “trivializes the intrusive nature of electronic searches and potentially opens the door to troubling government misuse of new technology.”

According to the ACLU, the judge dismissed the significance of the Stingray’s ability to gather data from innocent third parties who just happen to be in the area.

“The violation arises from the fact that the government searched people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing,” the ACLU stated. “This is a violation even if the government doesn’t later use the information against those third parties.”

“Today’s decision sends the troubling message to the government that it’s alright to withhold information from courts about new technology, which means that the law will have an even harder time catching up,” the ACLU’s Linda Lye wrote.

Among the formerly secret, heavily redacted FBI documents on Stingray released by EPIC are pages which reveal that the FBI has in fact been imposing non-disclosure agreements on its staff.

Those non-disclosure agreements specifically block their agents from publicly disclosing any information related to the Stingray technology.

Furthermore, the non-disclosure agreements state, “Information bearing the LES [Law Enforcement Sensitive] caveat may not be used in legal proceedings without first receiving authorization from the originating agency.”

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One Response to Use of secretive ‘Stingray’ FBI cell phone tracking tool ruled lawful by judge

  1. jonzy May 10, 2013 at 10:18 AM

    It is no longer a secret and any attorney at law who is worthy of his power tie and wingtips knows that judges no longer examine search warrants. They don’t even read’em. A quick visit and observation to any magistrate’s court room would reveal as much. Law enforcement personnel walk in with search warrants, hand them to the clerk who in turn hands them to the magistrate who in turn signs them and hands them back. The entire process takes mere seconds. Fourth amendment be damned. Law enforcement, even at the lowliest state level, own the court room.


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