DOJ's new Stingray rules: feds need a warrant to track phones

Over the last few years, we've learned that US law enforcement agencies not only regularly use "Stingray" devices to locate suspects by their cellphones, but go to great lengths to hide this activity. After extensive reporting on the subject, the Department of Justice has established an "Enhanced Policy for Cell-Site Simulators" (PDF) detailing when they can be used by federal agencies, and how. A big part of that is the requirement that agents obtain a warrant first, except in certain cases that can include ongoing hacking attempts and people in danger of death or bodily harm. Also, they can't be used to collect communications like emails or texts at all.

One of the many issues privacy advocates have with the devices is how they work, by forcing connections with any cellphone in range and scooping up data. The new regulations set privacy practices requiring all data to be deleted once a subject's phone is found, and at least once a day, or at least every 30 days when used to track an unknown device. The rules also apply when the feds are helping out state or local law enforcement (but not when those agencies use the tech by themselves), and require more tracking and reporting. It's not everything that those who've warned us about the tech are looking for, but it is a first step in cutting down and keeping track of the use of surveillance tech that scoops up info so indiscriminately.

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