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New bill would require cops to get warrants for Stingray cell tracking

New bill would require cops to get warrants for Stingray cell tracking


“We must be mindful of the potential for abuse”

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Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales/The Verge

A bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers today introduced a bill that would require US police agencies to obtain a warrant before deploying cell-site simulation surveillance devices known as “stingrays,” reports USA Today. Stingrays are typically used by police to triangulate a criminal suspect’s location based on data emitted from their smartphones or wearable devices with cellular connectivity.

Stingrays are a controversial form of surveillance technology as it can accurately pinpoint a suspect’s location, but can also intercept data from innocent bystanders. Lawmakers are hoping the bill, titled the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act, can curb potential abuse of the technology and promote transparency when police agencies use the device.

"As we welcome innovative technologies that help fight crime, we must be mindful of the potential for abuse." Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee, said. "When individuals are tracked in this way, the government is able to generate a profile of a person’s public movements that includes details about a person’s familial, political, professional, religious, and other intimate associations,” Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich, added.

Though largely supported by human rights groups, the bill will face steep opposition

A recent investigation found that the Justice Department and Homeland Security spent $71 million and $24 million, respectively, on stingray devices between fiscal years 2010 and 2014. FBI Director James Comey has also made public statements in favor of stingrays, calling them crucial to finding and capturing criminals.

“It’s not about intercepting their calls, their communications,” he said in 2014. “It’s how we find killers. It’s how we find kidnappers. It’s how we find drug dealers. It’s how we find missing children. It’s how we find pedophiles.”