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Government officials can pinpoint your location through your mobile phone without even contacting the cellular company — and has used the technology thousands of times in recent years, according to a new report.
The US Marshals Service has tracked 5,975 people through their phones using a suitcase-sized device called a stingray that also collects information about thousands of innocent people in the surrounding area that have nothing to do with the specific investigation, USA Today has learned.
The Marshals Service can intercept and track cell phone signals through the secret device, which mimics a cell phone tower. The Marshals still has not acknowledged the existence of the device, although the newspaper called it one of the “worst-kept secrets.”
Other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the Baltimore Police and the NYPD, also secretly use stingrays to track suspects.
“For any sensitive technique, method, source or too, it only makes good sense that law enforcement would not divulge this information,” former US Marshal William Sorukas told USA Today. “An investigator would never release or publicize the name of a confidential informant.”
Thousands Placed Under Surveillance
Documents obtained by USA Today through a Freedom of Information Act request underscore just how often the devices are used. US Marshals used the devices to track down people wanted on federal warrants, but in the process also collect information about the phones of thousands of other innocent people nearby – a fact that troubles advocates of privacy.
“Just that sheer number is significant,” ACLU attorney Nathan Wessler told the newspaper. “That’s a lot of deployments of a very invasive surveillance tool.”
Until now, the biggest known user of stingrays was the Baltimore Police Department, which has used the devices at least 4,300 times. The ACLU has alleged that law enforcement uses stingrays to conduct warrantless surveillance, although the FBI has a new rule supposedly preventing warrantless use of the devices for federal agents. But the FBI’s rule doesn’t impact local law enforcement.
USA Today said the Marshals may be using stingrays in violation of some state laws, which require the use of the devices to be disclosed to a suspect upon arrest.
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