Stingray Use by Feds and Local Police is Growing: Are You Being Monitored?
Police officers and law enforcement agencies are limited by the federal constitution as well as federal and state laws in what they can do. They are not supposed to snoop on citizens or eavesdrop on people unless they’ve got specific legal authorization to do so.
The problem is — as any experienced criminal defense lawyer will tell you — is that they WILL do things they aren’t supposed to do, like invading your privacy, and gthen they’ll wait to see if they get caught or if some judge out there will call them on it once an aggrieved citizen brings a claim for violation of his or her rights.
Would they do that to you? Well, we already know that:
- there are so many police officers who are known to lie on the stand that prosecutors keep lists of their names so they keep them out of the courthouse;
- that feds and local police work together to profit off of asset forfeiture schemes; and
- we know that law enforcement use drug testing kits that are known to be so flawed that they will test positive for cocaine when you use ordinary stuff like Walgreen’s sleeping pills.
The truth is that it happens all the time — secret snooping by the government. And with new spying technologies being developed that are easy to use and cheap to buy, well the temptation is proving to be just too great for more and more law enforcement agencies.
For instance, we know that Texas police have been busy using drones and other stuff to monitor people for several years now. Montgomery County has been operating a Condor Drone since 2011; this drone can read your car’s license plate from its place in the sky a half mile away.
Another example? A bigger one? Let’s consider the Stingray.
Stingrays Allow Police to Spy On People
No one really knew how bad the problem was with federal agents working hand in hand with local police departments in getting around search warrant laws to get private information on smartphones and cell phones … until a federal judge spilled the beans. See, “Seal Broken by Judge Today and Now We Know How The Police Are Eavesdropping on Public With Stingray Devices.”
Stingrays are a big concern from a criminal defense and civil rights perspective. These devices allow surveillance on people who are not aware that they are being monitored.
They work by acting like a regular cell phone tower, and your phone assumes that the Stingray is a proper cell phone tower. In doing so, the Stingray grabs information on who is where, and who is who. There’s no way that the Stingray tracks just one person — it gathers information on everyone that pings off that fake cell phone tower. And all that data gets gathered and stored. And you don’t know about it.
ACLU Watching for Stingrays in the USA
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is working hard to follow how law enforcement at all levels (local, state, and federal) are using Stingrays to track private communications and monitor people. Among the ACLU’s efforts is to maintain an online tally of where they have found Stingrays being used.
As of the date of this blog post, there were 48 different state agencies that were known to be using stingrays, for example. However, it’s not possible for the ACLU to get a perfect tally of where these devices are being operated by police because the government folk do NOT WANT people to know they are doing this.
So, as the ACLU warns on its site, their list is not accurate because we all know there are LOTS of these snooping devices being used by law enforcement all over this country that isn’t being reported. It’s being kept secret by the police.
From the ACLU list, we do know the following Texas law enforcement organizations are using Stingrays:
1. Texas Department of Public Safety
2. Houston Police Department
3. FORT WORTH POLICE DEPARTMENT
That’s right. Just like we now know that the police are using drones in Montgomery County, we know that over in Fort Worth the police are using Stingrays.
Growing Trend for Feds and Police to Use Stingrays
This surveillance on every citizen without their knowledge by police isn’t being thwarted by the current press coverage or advocate outcry. Consider what’s going on in Santa Clara County, California this week as an example.
Over there, the okey-dokey to implement a full-out Stingray tracking system in the county is being zipped through the approval process before the public at large really gets to know and understand what the heck is going on. A federal Homeland Security Department grant is paying a half a million bucks to the county so they can buy all these spy gadgets and then the local police and federal law enforcement will be able to track the movements and the identities of anyone with a cellphone with the county.
There’s Some Good News: Tracking the Trackers
Of course, technology is advancing fast in the 21st Century. So, the good news is that there is new technology available now to allow anyone who wants to know if they are being monitored by the government via a Stingray device to find out.
Called a SnoopSnitch, this is a new app that comes from Germany where developers have responded to Stingray privacy concerns with an easy way to track the trackers.
If you have an Android phone with Qualcomm chipsets, which are a lot more phones than you might think (e.g., Sony and Samsung) then SnoopSnitch lets you know that you’ve got a fake cell phone tower in your vicinity.
No, the app cannot block your phone from being identified by the Stingray. But it can let you know that snooping is going on, and that’s a step in the right direction.
And even better news? SnoopSnitch is FREE.
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