The list of tools used by federal and local law enforcement to gather and monitor cell phone data was obtained by The Intercept. The catalog for monitoring hardware includes information about each piece’s capabilities, restrictions, “planning considerations,” cost, and maker. This includes the infamous Stingray.
The list is a sobering reminder that even if you’re not under investigation, you’re being followed if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. It ranges from handheld devices that can track a few phones to boxes that can target as many as 10,000 different smartphones.
The list, which the journal got from a source in the intelligence community, reveals dozens of gadgets that most people were previously unaware of. Judges and privacy advocates have long requested information about how many of these gadgets operate but have been denied access due to national security concerns.
Before buying a tracker, law enforcement organizations also sign NDAs. With funding from the Department of Homeland Security, many local law enforcement agencies buy these items, which they then use in crimes unrelated to combating terrorism.
Utilizing the technology in the catalog, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and other cell networks can be impersonated. In other words, a device tracks the data that is exchanged between the phone and device while a machine produces a false cell tower to which phones connect. The information can be used to locate an individual, eavesdrop on calls and text messages, and even extract media from the phone.
The dragnet approach that many of these devices offer violates rights to privacy and the fourth amendment search and seizure rights, in addition to being utilized for purposes unrelated to the ones for which they were purchased.
Many people think that search warrants granted using this kind of technology can be unduly wide because courts are unable to determine the scope of the device’s capabilities. At least now, before releasing these pieces of equipment to the general public, the judges can see just how potent they are.
If you are interested in more articles like this, here’s one about why we need legal systems.