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Can Police Use Stingrays to Take Information from Your Cellphone?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016 12:49
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Southern California Criminal Defense Blog

When you use your cellphone, you probably expect the information on it to stay private. You certainly don’t think that others will be able to access your private messages, account information and location unless you let them. However, law enforcement agencies sometimes use devices called Stingrays to gain access to cellphones. Is this legal?cellphone_smartphone_text_sext-300x169

What are Stingrays?

Stingrays are devices about the size of a suitcase that act as cellphone towers. Law enforcement agencies use these devices to trick phones in the area into connecting to them. By doing so, Stingrays are able to gain access to information on the cellphones.

For instance, cellphones store text messages, emails and location data of the user. All of this information is available to Stingrays in real time. These devices are powerful enough to connect to phones through walls and document this information, and interfere with or record phone calls. Police can use a Stingray to search for criminal suspects, shut down a phone before evidence can be deleted, and attempt to locate missing persons.

Stingrays have been a valuable tool for police during investigations. In 2012, the FBI used a Stingray device to catch a suspect in a mail and wire fraud investigation. However, there have been some questions raised recently about letting police use these devices without first obtaining a search warrant.

New Policies Regulating the Use of Stingrays by Law Enforcement

The use of Stingrays by law enforcement has been a controversial topic. Agencies were previously allowed to use these devices without issue. However, a recent policy change by the Department of Justice requires law enforcement officials to obtain a warrant before they can use a Stingray device.

Under this new policy, law enforcement agencies must regularly delete data collected through Stingray, bit data that could prove a suspect’s innocence must be maintained.

There are a few exceptions to the new policy. Officers can use Stingrays without first obtaining a search warrant in exigent circumstances, such as in an instance where a person’s life is in immediate danger or evidence is about to be destroyed.

A warrant is also not required under exceptional circumstances, which include instances where a search warrant isn’t required by law and obtaining a search warrant is impractical under the circumstances. Law enforcement agencies claiming exceptional circumstances exist in a particular case are required to get a court order and approval from the superiors in their agency before using a cellphone tracking device.

However, this new Stingray policy does not apply to state and local law enforcement agencies. While the FBI, U.S. Marshals and the Drug Enforcement Agency are required to follow the new policy, it does not apply to local police who wish to use Stingray devices.

This new policy is in line with laws that require police to obtain a warrant before they conduct a search of a cellphone, but it does not go far enough until it is extended to include the use of Stingrays by local law enforcement agencies.

Contact the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today

If you or your loved one has been accused of a crime, it is important to know how the evidence against you was obtained. That is why you should speak to an experienced attorney who can help you determine if the evidence against you was obtained illegally. If it was not, this evidence may be thrown out.

At Wallin & Klarich, our skilled criminal defense attorneys have been successfully defending our clients in criminal cases for more than 35 years. Let us help you now.

With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Diego, West Covina, Torrance and Victorville, you can find a dedicated Wallin & Klarich attorney available near you no matter where you work or live.

Call us at (888) 280-6839 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.

Sources:

http://www.dailydot.com/layer8/stingray-surveillance-doj-warrant-north-carolina/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/technology/tracking-our-phones-how-stingray-devices-are-being-used-by-police/article29322747/

https://www.wired.com/2015/10/stingray-government-spy-tools-can-record-calls-new-documents-confirm/

By Wallin & Klarich, A Law Corporation

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