According to findings published by Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, Ph.D., the Secret Service, and ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations unit repeatedly failed to obtain the correct legal paperwork when carrying out invasive cell phone surveillance. The agencies did not obtain proper search warrants before invading numerous people's private phone calls.
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What exactly did the Secret Service and ICE do wrong?
Cuffari asserts that the Secret Service and ICE did two main things incorrectly. The first issue was that the two departments are accused of failing to obtain required search warrants for the parties to whom they were listening and claim that all parties provided consent for them to listen in.
The second issue was the way that the Secret Service used cell-site simulators or 'stingrays' to support requests from local law enforcement agencies. There have now been numerous cases reported where the departments were unable to provide any evidence of ever applying for search warrants to Cuffari for emergency court orders.
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The agencies did not obtain proper search warrants before invading numerous people's private phone calls. (Fox News)
What are stingrays?
Cell-site simulators or 'stingrays' are electronic surveillance devices that are used by law enforcement officers to locate or identify potential criminal suspects by imitating cell towers and tricking nearby cell phones to connect to them. This allows the police to track a person's real-time location. Although this method can be super helpful to law enforcement, its use of it is controversial.
The problem with stingrays is that not only will they track the person whose phone law enforcement is tapping into, they also track every other device within their range, even those who are not involved in any kind of crime. (CyberGuy.com)
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The problem with stingrays is that not only will they track the person whose phone law enforcement is tapping into, they also track every other device within their range, even those who are not involved in any kind of crime.
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Stingrays have historically been developed under very strict nondisclosure agreements, meaning that law enforcement cannot even publicly disclose all the knowledge they have on how they work.
There have been cases where the use of cell-site simulators has been challenged in court, with some arguing that they violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.
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Cuffari has now determined that because stingrays are so invasive and also target those who are completely innocent and uninvolved, law enforcement is now required to obtain a search warrant authorized by a judge before going through with this method of investigation.
The only circumstance where this is not required is in an emergency, such as if law enforcement feels that they must act as quickly as possible to prevent the loss of life or destruction of evidence.
Even if that is the case, however, law enforcement still must apply for a court order within 48 hours of using this method and prove why they felt it was necessary at the time.
How do you feel about the use of stingrays? We want to know your thoughts.
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Kurt "CyberGuy" Knutsson is an award-winning tech journalist who has a deep love of technology, gear and gadgets that make life better with his contributions for Fox News & FOX Business beginning mornings on "FOX & Friends." Got a tech question? Get Kurt’s CyberGuy Newsletter, share your voice, a story idea or comment at CyberGuy.com.