What Is A Stingray ? Why Is U.S. Justice Reviewing This Tracking Technology?
Unless you follow technology, or are very in-tune with privacy and freedom issues, A Stingray might make you think of the deadly fish in the ocean. But that's not the case here.
A question about Stingray cellphone tracking technology was brought up on the Meet in The Middle live noon talk show Monday on Newstalk 870, and we thought it merited a look.
The U.S. Justice Department is reviewing it's use of this controversial cellphone tracking technology, especially deciding if it's worth upgrading or pursuing further now that 3 and 4G phones are the norm in our country - as well as around the world.
Simply put, a Stingray is a device that mimics a 2G cellphone tower. When pointed at an airplane, for example, it causes phones to "lock" onto it, in much the same way your phone seeks out the nearest cell tower when you recalibrate your phone. I have a Galaxy S-4 Mini (yes, I am behind the times) and I periodically dial 'star 228' to make sure it's locked onto the closest, most efficient tower here in Tri-Cities. It's a signal interceptor designed to locate a certain phone, and allow the user to pinpoint where it's geographically located.
A 2G tower doesn't require any authentication to connect to a phone. It's used to find a certain phone in a crowd, and it can work almost anywhere. According to the website The Verge, they're one of the most closely guarded secrets in the world of law enforcement:
"For more than a decade, Stingrays have been shrouded in intense secrecy, and criminal prosecutions are often abandoned rather risking having to admit in court that the devices were used."
The U.S. Justice Department is reviewing how it's being used, and U.S. Marshalls are known to have them. A report by the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) shows at least four police departments, including Tacoma, in the U.S. are using the devices.
Privacy and freedom advocates say the devices seriously violate the privacy and freedom of average citizens, because their phones can be locked onto such a device even if they're not being sought by authorities.
According to a report by the ACLU, 51 known agencies or authorities in the U.S. are known to have and use Stingrays. So far, only the Tacoma Police Department uses them in Washington state. Boise, Idaho police have them, but there are no known departments in Oregon utilizing the devices.