Illinois has become the latest state to pass legislation designed to limit the use of cell phone surveillance tools by requiring law enforcement to obtain a warrant before using the devices.
On Friday July 22, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed legislation which creates new limits on how law enforcement can use surveillance devices known as cell site simulators, or “stingrays.” According to the Tenth Amendment Center, the new law will prohibit the use of stingrays except to locate or track the location of a communications device or to identify a communications device.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation describes stingrays as “a brand name of an IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) Catcher targeted and sold to law enforcement. A Stingray works by masquerading as a cell phone tower – to which your mobile phone sends signals to every 7 to 15 seconds whether you are on a call or not – and tricks your phone into connecting to it.” As a result, whoever is in possession of the Stingray can figure out who, when, and to where you are calling, the precise location of every device within the range, and with some devices, even capture the content of your conversations.
The new Illinois law will also give police 24 hours to delete any phone information accidentally collected on individuals who are not under investigation. The measure officially goes into effect on January 1, 2017. The Tenth Amendment Center reports:
Under the law, if a court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a law enforcement agency used a cell site simulator to gather information in violation of the limits in the act, then the information is presumed to be inadmissible in any judicial or administrative proceeding.An amendment approved by the Judiciary Committee strengthened the bill, requiring police destroy any information gathered on non-targeted devices within 24 hours if the stingray was used to track or locate an known device, and 72 hours if used to track or locate an unknown device.
SciTech Today reports that the Illinois State Police have taken a neutral position on the law, while the Chicago PD did not immediately take a position. Stingrays have become a growing concern for civil liberties activists around the nation. One of the reasons for the concern is the amount of secrecy surrounding the use of the stingrays.
Both the Harris Corp. who manufacture the stingrays and the Federal Bureau of Investigations require police to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDA) related to the use of the devices. Through these NDAs local police departments have become subordinate to Harris, and even in court cases in front of a judge, are not allowed to speak on the details of their arrangements. This has created a dangerous precedent which allows law enforcement on the local, state, and federal level to operate the devices with impunity. Americans remain largely ignorant to the fact that numerous agencies are gathering their private information without a warrant.
“Cell site simulator technology too powerful to remain unregulated,” Khadine Bennett, who is associate legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, told SciTech Today. “The federal government has adopted modest guidelines similar to those enacted today. If the restrictions are good enough for the FBI, they should be workable for local law enforcement in Illinois.”
The new law from Illinois comes shortly after a federal judge struck down evidence collected by the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration. U.S. District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan ruled that the defendant’s rights were violated when the DEA used a stingray without a warrant in order to find the suspects home.
This is one of the effects of law enforcement agencies attempting to prevent the public from learning how exactly the devices operate, who has them, and what is happened to the data that is being collected. These are important questions that every American who values privacy should consider.