Local police departments now have the ability to spy on cellphones using technology that masks itself as a tower to gather private data and track a person's whereabouts, according to a report in USA Today.
The FBI utilizes the technological tactic, but now it's being used by dozens of local and state police agencies to snatch information from thousands of cellphone users, including the data of citizens who are not part of an investigation, the report said.
The mobile devices operate in real time, which law enforcement officials say allows them to track fugitives on the move and helps to solve other crimes.
However, privacy advocates are concerned the technology will be abused and violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, because search warrants are not required in most states to use the devices.
"I don't think that these devices should never be used, but at the same time, you should clearly be getting a warrant," said Alan Butler, spokesperson for the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
The extensive investigation by USA Today showed that 25 police departments own the Stingray technology, a $400,000 mobile device that tricks phones into thinking it's a cell tower so the information can be instantly downloaded. The devices have been purchased using anti-terror grants from the federal government.
The Stingray was developed for use by the military and spy agencies, and local police authorities are supposed to use the devises specifically to prevent a terrorist attack, but the report says it has been used in connection with a kidnapping case, and also to monitor a public protest demonstration.
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