The Stingray is not just a car or an animal, it is a surveillance device. More specifically, it is a secret cellphone tracking technology employed by law enforcement. In the days since 9/11, there has been rampant use of this technology on all levels. In a recent policy change, the Department of Justice will require a warrant for use of these suitcase sized devices for federal law enforcement. Whereas this seems to be a step in the right direction, there are still lingering concerns about this practice.
Some of these concerns involve the exceptions to the new rules. If they involve protection of human life or obtaining a warrant is not practical based on the situation, they will not be required. With what we have seen from the DOJ so far, you could imagine these exceptions may occur more often than not. Though not legally binding, this is an official statement of policy.
Other departments not effected by this policy change include state and local law enforcement, as well as the Department of Homeland Security. While looking for suspects, state and local law enforcement departments are known to take Stingrays in to neighborhoods and potentially acquire data from hundreds of callers in the area, all without a warrant. Some police departments are willing to go as far as to drop criminal charges rather than disclose their investigative methods.
This policy shift did catch the attention of the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who was glad to hear of the greater oversight and accountability. But Senator Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, said he plans to a further review of the new regulations regarding state and local usage. “I’ll be studying the details of the policy to determine if it sufficiently protects the privacy of Americans, and closely examining how it’s adhered to going forward”. However, since the Department of Homeland Security usually deals in issues of national security, even a policy change may do little to effect the intrusive warrantless wire taps performed.
It is possible that 14 years after 9/11, some of our 4th amendment rights are being restored. This is certainly a positive step for the future. Though we realize they will never fully return, there needs to be a balance between safety and privacy. After all of these years of privacy groups calling for regulations on these listening devices, it is nice to know that someone may be finally listening to the concerns of the average citizen.