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Civil Rights & Abortion Discuss FBI Documents Shine Light on Clandestine Cellphone Tracking Tool at the Political Forums; The FBI calls it a “sensitive investigative technique” that it wants to keep secret. But newly released documents that shed ...

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Old 01-15-2013, 02:32 AM
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Post FBI Documents Shine Light on Clandestine Cellphone Tracking Tool

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The FBI calls it a “sensitive investigative technique” that it wants to keep secret. But newly released documents that shed light on the bureau’s use of a controversial cellphone tracking technology called the “Stingray” have prompted fresh questions over the legality of the spy tool.

Functioning as a so-called “cell-site simulator,” the Stingray is a sophisticated portable surveillance device. The equipment is designed to send out a powerful signal that covertly dupes phones within a specific area into hopping onto a fake network. The feds say they use them to target specific groups or individuals and help track the movements of suspects in real time, not to intercept communications. But by design Stingrays, sometimes called “IMSI catchers,” collaterally gather data from innocent bystanders’ phones and can interrupt phone users’ service—which critics say violates a federal communications law.

The FBI has maintained that its legal footing here is firm. Now, though, internal documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a civil liberties group, reveal the bureau appears well aware its use of the snooping gear is in dubious territory. Two heavily redacted sets of files released last month show internal Justice Department guidance that relates to the use of the cell tracking equipment, with repeated references to a crucial section of the Communications Act which outlines how “interference” with communication signals is prohibited.

It’s a small but significant detail. Why? Because it demonstrates that “there are clearly concerns, even within the agency, that the use of Stingray technology might be inconsistent with current regulations,” says EPIC attorney Alan Butler. “I don't know how the DOJ justifies the use of Stingrays given the limitations of the Communications Act prohibition.”

The FBI declined a request to comment on specific questions related to the legality of Stingrays, as it says the matter remains in litigation. Spokesman Christopher Allen told me by email that “in general the FBI cautions against drawing conclusions from redacted FOIA documents.”
Stingray, IMSI catcher: FBI documents shine light on controversial cellphone tracking tool.

Inbetween the "collateral" information collected and the potential, more complete description, I suspect that this technology should require a warrant...
... and even then a warrant will say "You can search Al Capone's phone" but that wouldn't allow for searching Pat Smith's phone...
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Old 01-15-2013, 11:14 AM
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Default Re: FBI Documents Shine Light on Clandestine Cellphone Tracking Tool

I remember a few months ago reading either an initial report about this or something similar. Yet another example of an overall clear slide and tendency of our federal govt. failing to see privacy as important and something to be protected.
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