San Bernardino uses stingrays hundreds of times without warrants

May 27, 2015 10:40 pm
Cyrus Farivar in ArsTechnica reports that the San Bernardino Sheriff has used a stingray cell tower impersonator hundreds of times without a warrant, "under questionable judicial authority." Wikipedia explains, "The StingRay is an IMSI-catcher (International Mobile Subscriber Identity), a controversial cellular phone surveillance device." The devices intercept thousands of calls within the vicinity of their use, and ArsTechnica reports that the template application it got from a public records request cites no legal authority for the wide sweeps. "This is astonishing because it suggests the absence of legal authorization (because if there were clear legal authorization you can bet the government would be citing it)," Fred Cate, a law professor at Indiana University, told ArsTechnica by e-mail. "Alternatively, it might suggest that the government just doesn’t care about legal authorization. Either interpretation is profoundly troubling," he said. The report also says the FBI non-disclosure agreement about the devices, "indicates that the agency will work with local prosecuting authority to dismiss cases rather than reveal information in court about stingrays." Many law enforcement officials attempt to keep the latest upgrades and capabilities of the devices secret. San Bernardino the 12th-most populous county in the United States, and the fifth-most populous in California. Earlier in the month, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors decided not to purchase of a cell-site simulator, despite a federal grant. "We were in negotiations with Harris, and we couldn't get them to agree to even the most basic criteria we have in terms of being responsive to public records requests," a county official there told Ars Technica. "After many hours of back and forth it became clear that they weren't going to consent to a contract in an attempt to keep everything secret and non-discoverable and that's not something we could live with as a public agency. The negotiations are going to be terminated and the grant money will go to other purposes." Read the full story at ArsTechnica.