Have You Been Stingrayed?

stingray-640x360A few evenings ago, Mrs. WC noted that the cell service provider on her iPhone had changed from our usual vendor to “Boise PD.” It only appeared for a few moments, but it was clearly the operation of a Stingray – a poorly configured Stingray – in our neighborhood.

You don’t know about Stingrays? They are a device built by the Harris Corporoation to subvert the integrity of a cell phone. They allow anyone possessing a Stingray to locate you and your cell phone, to intercept your voice communications and read your text messages. It’s unclear whether or not they give Stingrays access to the contents of your cell phone, but it’s a concern.

Stingrays work by tricking your cell phone into thinking it is talking to a cellular service, when in fact it is talking to the Stingray. They spoof a cell tower. The constitutionality of warrantless use of Stingrays may be on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court – there’s a petition for certiorari from a 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that it was constitutional. The FBI and other agencies, and the non-disclosure agreements that Harris Corporation has its purchasers sign, fogged the very existence of the products for years. There’s an e-mail that’s in the public record from Sarasota police to North Port police that states, “In reports or depositions we simply refer to the assistance as ‘received information from a confidential source regarding the location of the suspect.’ To date this has not been challenged…” After all, it’s impossible to challenge the legality of an illegal search if you don’t know there has been a search. So law enforcement commits crimes to catch criminals. So much for a “nation of laws.”

It’s not just a matter of a criminal’s rights being violated. A Stingray tricks all cell phones in a target radius. Your’s, too. It’s a warrantless search of you and your cell phone, not just the criminal suspect and his or her cell phone.

A Chicago attorney, Jerry Boyle, has filed a federal lawsuit seeking a determination that indiscriminate use of Stingrays and similar products is a violation of the Fourth and First Amendment. WC wishes him luck and will likely make a charitable contribution to the ACLU in Boyle’s support. Boyle’s claim is particularly troubling: the Stingray was deployed at a political rally.

To any readers who think that the unrestrained snooping of cell phones is a good idea, WC has two comments: (1) You have little, if any, experience with Cook County law enforcement, and (2) in the Trump Administration, seriously?

It is a search. It must have a warrant. And it’s a violation of §1983 to do otherwise.