San Bernardino County Sheriff deployed Stingray cell-site spoofing gear hundreds of times without warrant

San Bernardino County Sheriff deployed Stingray cell-site spoofing gear hundreds of times without warrant
Law enforcement at all levels, be it federal, state, county, or local, has access to some pretty impressive technology to aid in apprehending suspects through the course of an investigation.

One of those technological wonders is a tool that does not make the news that often, it is called the Stingray. The Stingray is manufactured by Harris Corporation, a long time manufacturer of industrial, military, and commercial communications equipment.

In the right hands, the Stingray can prove invaluable. It works by mimicking a cell site, allowing investigators to intercept phone calls and text messages. Law enforcement wants the Stingray to stay off the radar of most folks, but the technology has come under scrutiny about potential violations of privacy and constitutionality of what amounts to unwarranted search of devices whose data is captured in the same electronic net.

Many law enforcement entities, including the FBI, have stated they endeavor to preserve privacy rights by ensuring non-targeted data is deleted from the Stingray. Recently, TV New 10 out of Sacramento did some investigative reporting about the use of this equipment throughout California. No scandals broke as a result of any discovered misuse of the devices, but that is the biggest concern among privacy advocates, including the dragnet nature of an electronic “catch all” system like the Stingray.

Washington state just passed legislation requiring a search warrant to put a Stingray into use. In California, the legislation is still pending, but for now, law enforcement personnel put the Stingray to work through a “pen/trap order,” formally known as a pen register and trap and trace order. Unlike requests for a search warrant, pen/trap orders are not specific, and the recorded applications are sealed, even after an investigation is closed.

Now Ars Technica submitted a number of public records requests to the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department (SBSD). Among the responses from county lawyers were “templates” for pen/trap orders which were categorized as search warrant applications. Since the latter part of 2012, SBSD has used the Stingray more than 300 times between January 2014 and May 2015, ostensibly without a warrant. During the course of an arrest however, the Supreme Court has ruled a warrant is required to search a cell phone.

Even more interesting is that the pen/trap orders fall under federal statues, not California state law. Some might say that is not a big deal, but the California State Attorney General issued guidance in 2003 that state law enforcement cannot use federal law to do an run-around state laws which have stronger privacy protections. Sheriff’s departments are not state agencies though.

As much as law enforcement agencies would like to see Stingray stay in the shadows so they can do their work. The whole point of a search warrant is that is ensures proper oversight of data/material collected as guided and authorized by a judge. One could easily make the argument that pen/trap orders provide no such oversight, and unfettered use of Stingray equipment could prove to become as much a liability in the legal process as it is an asset in the investigative process.

source: Ars Technica

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13 Comments

1. Salazzi

Posts: 537; Member since: Feb 17, 2014

Did anyone from the police department(s) get arrested?

2. arch_angel

Posts: 1651; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

probably not people in law enforcement get away with s**t all the time even if they get caught.

6. Industriality

Posts: 131; Member since: Sep 08, 2014

In your s**tty country, not mine.

8. ninja_master

Posts: 306; Member since: Feb 27, 2015

Hey, respect other people countries!

9. arch_angel

Posts: 1651; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

like you know what goes on all over your country. bad people exist everywhere and your country is no exception.

3. PBXtech

Posts: 1032; Member since: Oct 21, 2013

"Of course I'd be willing to give up some of my freedom if it meant being more safe." Common post 911 comment.

4. kevin91202

Posts: 642; Member since: Jun 08, 2014

"Sheriff’s departments are not state agencies though." -PA Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Can PA get anything right? In California, the police powers given to sheriff's departments are approved by the State. You must be POST certified to be a peace (police) officer in California. Hence, if the California's attorney general says you can't do something, the sheriff's departments must abide.

5. Maxwell.R

Posts: 218; Member since: Sep 20, 2012

Wrong wrong wrong. Sheriffs are elected positions whose jurisdiction and "police powers" are granted by the county. Deputies are assigned powers from the elected sherrif. They are ostensibly subject to state laws, but counties in and of themselves are sovereign. Just as county jails are not part of the CDCR. Unlike a Chief of Police who would answer to a Commission or Mayor, or a state policeman who would answer to the State Commissioner who is appointed by the governor, Sheriffs are accountable to voters.

7. hamboza

Posts: 25; Member since: Oct 17, 2012

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. I don't even know what's right or wrong!

10. Niva.

Posts: 440; Member since: Jan 05, 2015

Which makes Sheriffs accountable to the county first, then state ultimately... right? Or are you saying they are federal entities? Because clearly they are not.

12. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

Where does a County reside? Is it not in a State? States laws don't exceed Federal law...right? Because all States are inside the Federal Union of the USA...right? So if your county is inside a States, Stats laws take precedent...period.

11. Crispin_Gatieza

Posts: 3139; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

Ruh Ro.

13. adamvzwez

Posts: 51; Member since: Mar 29, 2015

funny thing is i was born here

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