House Committee on Oversight wants Congress to regulate StingRays

William Gayde

Posts: 373   +5
Staff member

Originally seen in spy movies, devices exist today that can intercept your phone calls and text messages wherever you go. They can follow you around, fit in a backpack, and are nearly impossible to detect. This new breed of wiretapping has been controversial from the start, given the secrecy surrounding the program. These 'Cell Site Simulators' are sold to government agencies and police departments under the name StingRay. Manufactured by Harris Corporation, their case is one of the technology moving faster than regulations.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a report detailing their use and urging legislators to pass regulations around them. These boxes work along the lines of a man-in-the-middle attack. They connect to standard cell towers, then rebroadcast that signal while analyzing the traffic. Current cell phones can't distinguish between them and normal cell towers so due to their higher signal strength and quality, mobile phones will naturally connect to them. This allows anyone using the device to monitor calls, texts, and even a phone's geographic location.

Current regulation on these devices is spotty at best. Effectively a digital wiretap, police departments have been using them without traditional warrants in many cases. The report finds the Department of Justice currently has 310 devices and the Department of Homeland Security has 124. Costing between $100,000-$500,000 each, they are also making their way into the hands of municipal police departments.

Mass surveillance techniques are becoming more prevalent but The House did not recommend banning these devices. They merely requested more stringent regulations to be placed on them and for a national framework to be implemented. This would describe when and how the devices could legally be used. Their view is to treat StingRay usage just like a traditional search warrant and require probable cause before they can be used.

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Uncle Al

Posts: 7,101   +5,456
That should be a no brainer. Law enforcement at all levels has illegally been fielding these devices for too long. It's a good device and serves a good purpose, but ALL requirements for wire taps and Federal oversight MUST be in place or we are all doomed to beginning life in Orwell's 1984 despite the 30+ year late start ....
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Seems to me this should already be regulated by FCC and protected by the U.S. Constitution with enforcement by the DOJ. This isn't really something new, it's just a new kind of tool. HOW it is used and WHO is using it without proper authority is the BIG problem.

Existing law and regulations are just being ignored because SO MANY people from the government are here to help without knowing what they're supposed to be doing.

It's been said too many times before, even since the time of Plato, but it needs repeating - who will protect us from our protectors? (slightly modified)