Today, we can’t function without our smart phones. They hold nearly all our personal and business information, to include the most private aspects of our lives. While smart phones make our lives easier, carrying all of this information in the palm of our hands jeopardizes our privacy. While we all worry about criminals getting a hold of our personal information, we fail to recognize that our government, specifically law enforcement, has been using certain technology in order to covertly obtain the private information on our phone for over a decade.
Originally meant for military use, the technology at issue is called the Stingray. Law enforcement has been using the Stingray for over a decade (and affirmatively hid its use to the courts). It wasn’t until 2014 that that law enforcement’s use of the Stingray came to light, via the ACLU.
To understand how the Stingray works, we need to know how our smart phones work. Whenever you use your phone (e.g. making a phone call, texting, emails, internet search, etc.), your phone will connect to the nearest cell-site tower. The cell-site tower will then connect your phone to the network.
The Stingray is a cell-site simulator. The Stingray tricks the phone into believing that the Stingray is the cell-site tower. Instead of your phone connecting to your network cell-site tower, it connects to a law enforcement Stingray device. The Stingray then collects and copies all of your phone’s data (but you have no idea because your smart phone continues to work normally). When a Stingray is activated, it does not simply target one phone; all phones in the Stingray’s range will be intercepted. Potentially thousands of phones are being “hacked” when the Stingray is used. The Stingray captures your call history, text messages, etc. and can even track your physical location.
The 4th Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures. It requires law enforcement to get a search warrant if they want to search or seize something in your possession. The Stingray clearly violates the 4th Amendment and tramples on our Constitutional rights because it unknowingly captures our personal information.
The drafters of the Constitution would roll over in their graves if they knew about the technology being used by law enforcement agencies to steal our privacy. The Stingray is the modern version of the late 1700s, where British soldiers went door-to-door, searching our homes without any cause (but at least we knew our privacy was being violated and could fight back).
With better technology, our lives get easier. Unfortunately, the potential for abuse also increases. The Stingray is one of many advancements that can be used to limit our freedom. We need to recognize the danger technology causes, value our privacy, and seek solutions so that technology does not continue to surpass the Fourth Amendment.
NEED LEGAL ADVICE?
If you have any questions regarding search warrants, cell-site towers, or Stingray devices, the seasoned team at Arora Law have the experience and skills to advise you on this and all other serious legal matters. Contact us so we can help.