When it comes to protecting your rights, are cellphones a good or a bad thing? It’s plain to see how cellphones have improved our lives, not only by making sure we never miss a call, but also by putting the internet, including GPS navigation, email, Google searches, and all of our other favorite apps, right in our pocket. However, the benefits of our Information Age also come with a downside. Since our phones track everything we do, the temptation is high for law enforcement to get their hands on that information. The federal government has already been caught secretly collecting email and phone communications in its effort to fight terrorism, but now, scrutiny is being focused on local and state law enforcement. A recent article in the American Criminal Law Review Online, discusses how police are secretly using devices in public, known as StingRays, to pull information out of cellphones without the phone owner’s knowledge.
These StingRays, also known as IMSI-catchers, cell-site simulators, or triggerfish, essentially impersonate a cellphone tower, tricking cellphones in range to deliver their information directly to these devices. And these devices don’t discriminate, which means if you’re near one, your cellphone will be caught in it’s net and will send all your information directly to the police. This information isn’t just your location, but also includes the contents of your text messages and emails as well as everything said on a phone call while connected to the device. StingRays can be mounted in a car or on an aircraft, or are even just handheld, which means police can easily go to populated areas and collect gobs of people’s personal information without anyone knowing at all.
You might ask how this is different than when police use cellphone tower information to locate someone, as they’ve been legally allowed to for years. Aside from the additional kinds and volumes of information this new surveillance provides, there isn’t any current oversight due to the secrecy involved in using these devices. For instance, to get location information from cellphone towers, law enforcement agencies would have to get a warrant from a judge and then work with the cellphone service provider who then had a record of what information was gathered. Using StingRays, on the other hand, doesn’t currently require a warrant. And police agencies are quick to cut plea deals rather than have the details of the surveillance revealed in court and potentially found to violate innocent citizens’ constitutional rights, specifically the Fourth Amendment right against illegal searches and seizures and privacy.
Of course, the police should be able to obtain information to do their jobs. But, when the government overreaches and violates personal freedoms, they need to be held accountable too. And you need someone protecting your rights. Evidence unlawfully obtained must be suppressed-not used against criminal defendants. If you or someone you love is being prosecuted with illegally obtained evidence, contact the Law Office of John Freeman. It could be the most important call you make.