The FBI has used the sophisticated "Stingray" tracking device that can determine not only a caller's location but can also eavesdrop on the conversation.
Justice Department attorneys informed the US District Court for Arizona that use of the "Stingray" was quite common according to a report by the ACLU. The device is installed in an unmarked van. It can pinpoint the location of any mobile device within its range and also intercept any conversations or data transfer.
Instead of obtaining a warrant for the operation of the "Stingray", authorities use them under the authority of what are called "pen register" or "tap and trace" orders. These court orders are issued generally to allow collection of "meta-data" such as all phone numbers called from or to a certain number. The "Stingray" however collects not just meta-data but can also listen in on conversations and determine locations of the device and collect data from any other devices not targets of the investigators who happen to be nearby. The "tap and trace" orders are in general easier to obtain than warrants, as the latter requires probable cause.
Justice Department emails obtained by the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act show that even government attorneys were concerned that some FBI agents were not informing authorities of their use of the Stingray. One email from a Justice Department attorney reads:
.“It has recently come to my attention that many agents are still using [Stingray] technology in the field although the pen register application does not make that explicit. It is important that we are consistent and forthright in our pen register requests to the magistrates."
These revelations come just after the Obama administration has appealed a Supreme Court ruling last year that disallowed use of GPS tracking devices attached by agents to automobiles to track the whereabouts of suspects unless a warrant had been obtained. These Stingray devices will enable government snoopers to use an alternative means of tracking with or without proper authorization it would seem and definitely without needing a warrant.
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