On July 12th, a U.S. federal judge in New York issued a 14-page opinion ruling that the government could not use its stingray to locate a drug suspect asleep in his apartment. As a result of the ruling, the judge suppressed the evidence found in the man's bedroom—a kilogram of cocaine—probably ending the case.
In March of 2016, a state appeals court in Maryland reached a similar finding, but this is believed to be the first federal ruling of its kind.
"This is the first federal ruling I know of in which a judge squarely ruled that the Fourth Amendment requires police to get a warrant to use a stingray and suppressed evidence derived from warrantless use of the technology," said Nathan Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.
Cell-site simulators—commonly known as stingrays—can be used to determine a mobile phone's location by spoofing a cell tower. In some cases, stingrays 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, law enforcement has falsely claimed the use of a confidential informant when it has actually used stingrays.
Several states, including California, Washington, Virginia, Minnesota, and Utah, now mandate that a warrant be issued for use of stingrays. Last year, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice also imposed new policies that require a warrant for stingray use in most cases.
In this case, the stingray was used by the Drug Enforcement Agency, which is bound by rules under the DOJ—however, the device was deployed just days before the DOJ announced its new rules.
"Absent a search warrant, the Government may not turn a citizen's cell phone into a tracking device," US District Judge William Pauley wrote. Bully for you Judge Pauley.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 703-359-0700
Digital Forensics/Information Security/Information Technology