STINGRAY & Cell Phone Evidence

“Absent a search warrant, the government may not turn a citizen’s cell phone into a tracking device.”

U.S. District Judge William Pauley

Stingray

 

Last month, U.S. District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan ruled that the rights of a defendant had been  violated when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration used such a device without a warrant to locate his apartment. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

RELATED POST: BuzzFeedNews Mistaken about NSA and the search for Salah Abdeslam

Stingray

The StingRay is a cellular phone surveillance device — manufactured by Harris Corporation — initially developed for the military and intelligence community.

When operating in active mode, the device mimics a wireless carrier cell tower in order to force all nearby mobile phones and other cellular data devices to connect to it.

The Stingray can achieve far more than simply tracking and locating the cellular device user.

The device has the ability [Wikipedia] to perform the following:

Extracting stored data such as International Mobile Subscriber Identity (“IMSI”) numbers and Electronic Serial Number (“ESN”)

Writing cellular protocol metadata to internal storage

Forcing an increase in signal transmission power

Forcing an abundance of radio signals to be transmitted

Interception of communications content

Conducting a denial of service attack

Encryption key extraction

Radio jamming for either general denial of service purposes or to aid in active mode protocol rollback attacks

But in truth, the capabilities of these devices are not really known, as many US judges have found out. The INTERCEPT published an important piece:

Information on such purchases, like so much about cell-site simulators, has trickled out through freedom of information requests and public records.

The capabilities of the devices are kept under lock and key — a secrecy that hearkens back to their military origins.

When state or local police purchase the cell-site simulators, they are routinely required to sign non-disclosure agreements with the FBI that they may not reveal the “existence of and the capabilities provided by” the surveillance devices, or share “any information” about the equipment with the public.

Indeed, while several of the devices in the military catalogue obtained by The Intercept are actively deployed by federal and local law enforcement agencies, according to public records, judges have struggled to obtain details of how they work.

There seems to be no doubts that the use of such  technologies, developed for the Intelligence Community, for Police work must be carefully regulated. At the same time, it seems obvious that these technologies play an important role in the fight against terrorists. One may wonder if the Brussels attacks could have been thwarted… But that is another story.

REFERENCES

In first, U.S. judge throws out cell phone ‘stingray’ evidence — Reuters

A Secret Catalogue of Government Gear for Spying on Your Cellphone — The Intercept

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STINGRAY & Cell Phone Evidence

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