A criminal case examining the Fourth Amendment implications of cell-site simulators, also known as stingrays, has finally reached the 7th Circuit for the first time. Now one step below the Supreme Court, this case also likely marks the first time that warrantless use of stingrays has reached any federal appellate court.
Stingrays determine a phone’s location by spoofing a cell tower. In some cases, they can intercept calls and text messages. Once deployed, the devices intercept data from a target phone along with information from other phones within the vicinity. At times, police have falsely claimed the use of a confidential informant while in fact deploying this particularly sweeping and intrusive surveillance tool.
The 7th Circuit will now consider a 2013 case known as United States v. Patrick. It involves a Milwaukee man wanted on a probation violation who was suddenly located and arrested by local police with help from the FBI. There is very strong evidence to suggest that he was apprehended through the warrantless use of a stingray.
Patrick’s attorney, Chris Donovan, filed his opening brief in the appeal earlier this month. The case is so notable that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) also filed an amicus brief earlier this week. The organizations note that the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution requires that search warrants demonstrate probable cause of a crime. And, they note, Wisconsin passed a 2014 state law mandating warrants for stingray deployment.
It’s about f%$#ing time.
Law enforcement has been trying to conceal their warrantless use of this devices, because they are afraid that the courts will require warrants for this.
I hope that their concerns are justified.
It’s not that big deal to get a warrant, but lazy incompetent cops want short cuts.