Another court has quashed the warrantless use of “Stingray” devices by the police.
A device that tricks cellphones into sending it their location information and has been used quietly by police and federal agents for years, requires a search warrant before it is turned on, an appeals court in Washington ruled Thursday. It is the fourth such ruling by either a state appeals court or federal district court, and may end up deciding the issue unless the government takes the case to the U.S. Supreme Court or persuades the city’s highest court to reverse the ruling.
The case against Prince Jones in 2013 involved D.C. police use of a “StingRay” cell-site simulator, which enables law enforcement to pinpoint the location of a cellphone more precisely than a phone company can when triangulating a signal between cell towers or using a phone’s GPS function. Civil liberties advocates say the StingRay, by providing someone’s location to police without court approval, is a violation of an individual’s Fourth Amendment right not to be unreasonably searched. The D.C. Court of Appeals agreed in a 2 to 1 ruling, echoing similar rulings in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and federal district courts in New York City and San Francisco.
For those only concerned with “law and order,” this was just a case of bad police work. That is why all of their evidence and any hope of subsequent conviction is gone. The perp had two stolen cellphones in his possession, either of which could have been tapped with explicit permission. Instead, they opted to spy directly on the bad guy’s phone, sans the warrant. You get what you pay for – or skip.
As a victory, I’m sure there is a technological way around all of this anyway. That, or the Supremes will ultimately find that such illegal spying is really just a tax or something.
For now, it’s another small victory for the Bill of Rights.