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House bills would ban warrantless use of fake cell sites

Police would need permission to track criminals using Stingrays.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
February 20, 2017
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Manuel-F-O via Getty Images

House representatives are making good on their plans to implement clearer cellphone surveillance laws. A bipartisan group (led by House Oversight Committee chair Jason Chaffetz) has put forward two bills that would keep the use of Stingrays and other cell site simulators in check. The most prominent, the Cell Location Privacy Act, would require that law enforcement get a probable cause warrant before using one of these fake cell sites to track suspects. There would be exceptions for "exigent circumstances" and foreign intelligence gathering.

The other, the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act, would create legal guidelines for using location technology both by police and private outfits.

We don't have access to the full text of the bills as of this writing, so it's not clear how thorough the bills are and whether there are loopholes that undermine their effectiveness. Just what are "exigent circumstances," exactly -- a time-sensitive kidnapping case? If these bills become laws, though, they could still go a long way toward eliminating confusion over when and how cell site simulators get used. For instance, courts have had mixed opinions on whether or not cops need warrants for location data -- these measures could settle that question once and for all.

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