CellPhoneProposed legislation that would regulate police use of cell tower simulators for surveillance has the backing of Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston).

More commonly known as stingray devices, this technology acts as a cell phone tower and tricks phones in a particular area into thinking they are connecting to a phone tower operated by a service provider. Police then can use the fake tower – the stingray – to determine someone’s location, the serial numbers of phones in the area and more.

Stingray devices also can be used to block calls from cell phones, drain the battery life of phones connected to the simulator, block 3G and 4G connections to slow down service, employ malware in a connected phone and intercept the content of phone calls, web browsing and text messages.

Not only can police collect data on individuals using stingray devices, they could collect data on dozens or hundreds of other innocent people in the process as well.

“This technology presents a new opportunity for law enforcement, but it also is a powerful tool that should not be deployed without regulation,” Biss said. “We want to help law enforcement officers who use stingrays to know they are following state law and the parameters of the Constitution.”

Senate Bill 2343, sponsored by Biss, would establish the Citizen Privacy Protection Act, including statewide regulations for the use of stingray devices by law enforcement so that it doesn’t become used for mass surveillance of people in Illinois.

The legislation requires police to get a court order based on probable cause before using stingray devices. It also requires law enforcement to immediately and permanently delete any data collected beyond the scope of the warrant.

A similar measure has been filed in the Illinois House (HB4470). Four other states – Utah, California, Washington and Virginia – already have taken steps to regulate stingray use. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice requires federal agents to obtain warrants before using the technology.

A federal court in Chicago recently permitted a Freedom of Information lawsuit to move forward seeking additional information about the use of stingrays by the Chicago Police Department. In November, another federal court in Illinois opined that stingrays are “too powerful” to go unregulated.

If the guidelines are good enough for homeland security, they should be good enough for local police departments and other law enforcement agencies in Illinois, Biss said, noting that the proposed legislation is designed to balance legitimate uses of stingray technology with the privacy expectations of Illinois residents.

“It’s one thing for a phone company to have this data. People voluntarily enter into contracts with phone companies that give them that access,” Biss said. “But no one is signing a contract with the government giving them the same access to that information. The phone company can’t invade your home and take away your liberty. Government is not a phone company. That’s why it’s important to offer guidance on this matter now.”

Category: News

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