Tags: FBI | cellphone | devices | warrant

Senators Express Concern Over Use of Cellphone Tracking Devices

By    |   Monday, 05 January 2015 10:09 PM

The FBI says it does not need a search warrant to capture information from citizens' cellphones in public places, according to a report.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson last week, Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, inquired about law enforcement's use of "stingray" devices, also called IMSI catchers.

The letter followed a meeting the pair had with the FBI, during which they were briefed about the covert devices, which mimic cellphone towers. The devices either can be in a fixed position or can work from a vehicle, helicopter, or an airplane, and they are used to locate suspects and missing persons.

In the letter, Leahy and Grassley revealed the FBI's policy on the use of the devices, which have received a fair amount of media attention this year. They are used by all levels of law enforcement, from local police departments to federal agencies.

"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 an 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," Leahy and Grassley wrote.

"We have concerns about the scope of the exceptions. 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.

"We understand that the FBI believes that it can address these interests by maintaining that information for a short period of time and purging the information after it has been collected. But there is a question as to whether this sufficiently safeguards privacy interests."

The senators then posed several questions, to which they asked for a response by Jan. 30.

In November, it was reported that the U.S. Marshals Service uses "dirtboxes" — another name for the cellphone spying devices — to search for suspects. The technology, according to the report, can pinpoint someone's location to within 3 meters.

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The FBI says it does not need a search warrant to capture information from citizens' cellphones in public places, according to a report.
FBI, cellphone, devices, warrant
Monday, 05 January 2015 10:09 PM
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