|Dean of the U.S. House|
John Conyers, Jr.
U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, is co-sponsoring legislation that would require the Michigan State Police and other local law enforcement agencies to get a warrant before using cellphone snooping devices.
The Cell-Site Simulator Act of 2015, also known as the Stingray Privacy Act, was introduced Monday, following a new U.S. Justice Department policy that requires federal agencies to get warrants to use devices known as Stingrays that track the location of mobile phone users.
The bill comes about a week after The Detroit News reported that the Michigan State Police has been using the devices since at least 2006. Conyers and others are concerned that, while federal policy requires warrants for the FBI, there is no such requirement for local departments.
“The government’s expanded use of new surveillance technology, such as cell site simulators, greatly concerns me as their operation has not been sufficiently constrained by appropriate legal standards,” Conyers said in a statement.
“Our citizens have a fair expectation that the government will generally not use such devices to track their whereabouts, or to acquire location of mass numbers of cell phones operating within range of such a device, without a warrant.”
Conyers is one of two co-sponsors to the bill from U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. It includes penalties of fines and up to 10 years in prison for misusing the technology.
The News last year reported that Oakland County Sheriff’s officials used federal grant funds to acquire a Hailstorm device from Florida-based defense contractor Harris Corp. Last month, The News reported that the Michigan State Police have spent nearly a $1 million since 2006 on similar equipment.
The technology has raised privacy concerns and reform efforts nationwide because it collects information from not only criminal suspects, but also anyone with cellphones within range of the devices. The suitcase-sized contraption is installed in cars and pulls cell data for police. Its exact capabilities, though, aren’t fully known because Harris Corp. requires that police agencies sign confidentiality agreements.
Oakland officials told The News they have secured warrants since “Day 1,” while State Police said they get warrants or court orders before using the devices except in “exigent circumstances” such as kidnappings.
State Police officials have met with the ACLU to discuss policies and are reviewing the U.S. Justice Department’s new rules, officials told The News.
Documents show the equipment was used 128 times last year in cases from homicide to fraud and 82 arrests.
Legislation introduced last year in Michigan to require warrants to use the technology went nowhere. This year, California and Washington passed laws requiring police to get warrants to use Stingray-type devices, joining Virginia, Minnesota and Utah in regulating the devices.
Nationwide, the ACLU has identified 57 police agencies in 22 states and the District of Columbia that own the devices known as cell site simulators. They masquerade as cell towers and send signals to trick phones in the area into transmitting their locations and identifying information.
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