Huge Win for Privacy: Court Bans Use of This Crazy Spy Tool Without a Warrant

Come back with a warrant! That’s what the D.C. Court of Appeals told law enforcement last month, when it ruled that the use of cell site simulators without a warrant violates Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights. While there are still problems with the way these devices are used, this ruling is a huge win for due process and privacy rights.

Cell site simulators are devices that replicate cell towers and trick phones into sharing location and data with them, allowing law enforcement to track a suspect’s every move. With some of the more advanced cell site simulators---ostensibly banned in the US---police can even listen in on conversations.

Police in New York City have used the tool without a warrant more than 1,000 times since 2008.

The Stingray, the most popular brand of the cell site simulator, was originally created by the defense contractor Harris Corporation to deal with military and terror investigations. Sadly, since that time, the device has been deployed predominantly in domestic policing. It has been used in a variety of non-military and non-terror investigations, including hunting down a suspect who stole $60 worth of food, and the deportation of a non-violent illegal immigrant. Police in New York City have used the tool without a warrant more than 1,000 times since 2008.

While some privacy protections previously existed, they were very weak. In 2015, the Justice Department issued a ruling directing agencies to obtain a warrant before using any cell site simulators. However, that ruling is not binding for state and local police departments, who have routinely ignored the order.

In the case heard by the D.C. Court of Appeals, Prince Jones was accused of assaulting and robbing two different women he met online in 2013. When Jones allegedly robbed each woman, he also took their phones. Police then used the Stingray to track down the women’s phones, leading them to Jones. Because they failed to obtain a warrant before doing so, all charges against Jones have since been dropped. Police did a disservice to the victims in this case by failing to respect due process and obtain a warrant. If law enforcement had gone through the proper legal channels, the charges against Jones would have likely been upheld.

You could argue the use of the Stingray to track down Jones was justified because of the appalling nature of his crimes, but the Stingray is not foolproof. If Jones were to have pawned off the women’s phones after he stole them, tracking the phones could have easily led police to the whereabouts of an innocent person who played no role in Jones’ actions.

When the Stingray is deployed, it scoops up location data from all nearby cell phones.

Even in instances where police obtain a warrant for the use of a Stingray, there are still huge concerns, particularly the potential for dragnet collection of location data not relevant to the investigation. When the Stingray is deployed, it scoops up location data from all nearby cell phones, putting innocent people’s privacy rights at risk.

While federal law enforcement has promised the device isn’t used to collect the actual data of phone calls, texts or anything else, the device has those capabilities. And even if officials are following through on their promise to only collect metadata, that in and of itself is incredibly intrusive. Metadata can paint a picture of who you call, when you call them, and how long your conversation is, revealing intimate details of who you choose to interact with. So while requiring a warrant is certainly a step in the right direction, any time the Stingray is used there will be collateral damage.

Victory for privacy rights.

In the digital era, law enforcement has a whole host of tools at its disposal, but the Stingray should not be one of them. Requiring police to get a warrant before using this device is a certainly a victory for privacy rights, but ideally, police should not be able to deploy the device domestically. After all, it’s meant to hunt terrorists and enemy agents, not burglars and muggers.

Dan King is an advocate for Young Voices and a journalist residing in Arlington, Virginia. He writes about free speech, mass surveillance, civil liberties and LGBT issues. He can be found on Twitter @Kinger_Liberty.

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Here's a question unique to our times: "Should I tell my father 'Happy Father's Day,' even though he (she?) is now one of my mothers?"

Father's Day was four days ago, yes, but this story is just weird enough to report on. One enjoyable line to read was this gem from Hollywood Gossip: "Cait is a woman and a transgender icon, but she is also and will always be the father of her six children."

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Imagine reading that to someone ten — even five — years ago. And, honestly, there's something nice about it. But the strangeness of its having ever been written overpowers any emotional impact it might bring.

"So lucky to have you," wrote Kylie Jenner, in the Instagram caption under pre-transition pictures of Bruce Jenner.

Look. I risk sounding like a tabloid by mere dint of having even mentioned this story, but the important element is the cultural sway that's occurring. The original story was that a band of disgruntled Twitter users got outraged about the supposed "transphobic" remarks by Jenner's daughter.

But, what we should be saying is, "who the hell cares?" Who cares what one Jenner says to another — and more importantly and on a far deeper level — who cares what some anonymous Twitter user has to say?

When are we going to stop playing into the hands of the Twitter mob?

When are we going to stop playing into the hands of the Twitter mob? Because, at the moment, they've got it pretty good. They have a nifty relationship with the mainstream media: One or two Twitter users get outraged by any given thing — in this case Jenner and supposed transphobia. In return, the mainstream media use the Twitter comment as a source.

Then, a larger Twitter audience points to the article itself as proof that there's some kind of systemic justice at play. It's a closed-market currency, where the negative feedback loop of proof and evidence is composed of faulty accusations. Isn't it a hell of a time to be alive?

These days, when Americans decide to be outraged about something, we really go all out.

This week's outrage is, of course, the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy toward illegal immigration along the southern border. Specifically, people are upset over the part of the policy that separates children from their parents when the parents get arrested.

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Lost in all the outrage is that the President is being proactive about border security and is simply enforcing the law. Yes, we need to figure out a less clumsy, more compassionate way of enforcing the law, but children are not being flung into dungeons and fed maggots as the media would have you believe.

But having calm, reasonable debates about these things isn't the way it's done anymore. You have to make strong, sweeping announcements so the world knows how righteous your indignation is.

That's why yesterday, the governors of Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut declared they are withholding or recalling their National Guard troops from the U.S.-Mexico border until this policy of separating children from their parents is rescinded.

Adding to the media stunt nature of this entire "crisis," it turns out this defiant announcement from these five governors is mostly symbolic. Because two months ago, when President Trump called for 4,000 additional National Guard troops to help patrol the border, large numbers of troops were not requested from those five states. In fact, no troops were requested at all from Rhode Island. But that didn't stop Rhode Island's Democratic governor, Gina Raimondo, from announcing she would refuse to send troops if she were asked. She called the family separation policy, "immoral, unjust and un-American."

There's so much outrage, we're running short on adjectives.

The governors of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York all used the word "inhumane" in their statements condemning the Trump administration policy. There's so much outrage, we're running short on adjectives.

In a totally unrelated coincidence, four of these five governors are running for re-election this year.

I've made my position clear — separating these children from their parents is a bad policy and we need to stop. We need to treat these immigrants with the kind of compassion we'd want for our own children. And I said the same thing in 2014 when no one cared about the border crisis.

If consistency could replace even just a sliver of the outrage in America, we would all be a lot better off.

I think we can all agree, both on the Left and the Right, that children who have been caught up in illegal immigration is an awful situation. But apparently what no one can agree on is when it matters to them. This past weekend, it suddenly — and even a little magically — began to matter to the Left. Seemingly out of nowhere, they all collectively realized this was a problem and all rushed to blame the Trump administration.

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Here's Rachel Maddow yesterday:

I seem to remember getting mocked by the Left for showing emotion on TV, but I'll give her a pass here. This is an emotional situation. But this is what I can't give her a pass on: where the heck was this outrage and emotion back in 2014? Because the same situation going on today — that stuff Maddow and the rest of the Left have only just now woken up to — was going on back in July 2014! And it was arguably worse back then.

I practically begged and pleaded for people to wake up to what was going on. We had to shed light on how our immigration system was being manipulated by people breaking our laws, and they were using kids as pawns to get it done. But unlike the gusto the Left is using now to report this story, let's take a look at what Rachel Maddow thought was more important back in 2014.

On July 1, 2014, Maddow opened her show with a riveting monologue on how President Obama was hosting a World Cup viewing party. That's hard-hitting stuff right there.

On July 2, 2014, Maddow actually acknowledged kids were at the border, but she referenced Health and Human Services only briefly and completely rushed through what was actually happening to these kids. She made a vague statement about a "policy" stating where kids were being taken after their arrival. She also blamed Congress for not acting.

See any difference in reporting there from today? That "policy" she referenced has suddenly become Trump's "new" policy, and it isn't Congress's fault… it's all on the President.

She goes on throughout the week.

On July 7, 2014, her top story was something on the Koch brothers. Immigration was only briefly mentioned at the end of the show. This trend continued all the way through the week. I went to the border on July 19. Did she cover it? Nope. In fact, she didn't mention kids at the border for the rest of the month. NOT AT ALL.

Do you care about immigrant kids who have been caught in the middle of a broken immigration system or not?

Make up your minds. Is this an important issue or not? Do you care about immigrant kids who have been caught in the middle of a broken immigration system or not? Do you even care to fix it, or is this what it looks like — just another phony, addicted-to-outrage political stunt?

UPDATE: Here's how this discussion went on radio. Watch the video below.

Glenn gives Rachel Maddow the benefit of the doubt

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Some presidential overreach lasts longer than others.

The spending has already been signed into law, even though the Obama library has not received construction approval yet. Part of the holdup is that the proposed site is on public land in historic Jackson Park. That doesn't seem very progressive of the Obamas, but, you know, for certain presidents, you go above and beyond. It's just what you do. Some presidential overreach lasts longer than others.

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As the Mercury Museum proved this weekend, it is possible to build an exhibit with amazing artifacts that attracts a ton of visitors – and it cost taxpayers approximately zero dollars.