Federal Court rules against use of Stingray devices without warrant.

For the first time a federal judge has “suppressed evidence obtained without a warrant by U.S. law enforcement using a…surveillance device that can trick suspects’ cell phones into revealing their locations.”[1] U.S. District Judge William Pauley ruled that “[a]bsent a search warrant, the government may not turn a citizen’s cell phone into a tracking device.”[2]  This novel federal ruling follows a Maryland appeals court that became the first state appellate court to order evidence obtained in this manner suppressed.[3] [4] The surveillance devices in question are known as “Stingrays.” In laymen’s terms these devices are “invasive cell phone surveillance devices that mimic cell phone towers and send out signals to trick cell phones in the area into transmitting their locations and information.”[5] [6]  The ACLU believes that at least 66 agencies in 24 states use such devices.  The problem is that many of the agencies using such technology have to sign a non-disclosure agreement with the FBI that prohibits disclosure of the technology, or the use of it, to the public in any manner including court documents, or during judicial hearings.[7]

While this is a victory for civil rights in a time where there are few, the matter is not yet settled. Until the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of such devices without a warrant, the 4th Amendment is left to the mercy of those that are contractually obligated to not disclose they are even using such devices.

--By Derek A. Jordan, Esq., Barnes Law

Derek A. Jordan is an associate attorney with Barnes Law, licensed to practice law in Tennessee.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.



[1] See: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-crime-stingray-idUSKCN0ZS2VI

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] See: http://www.wired.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Stingray-Ruling-Maryland-Appellate-Court.pdf

[5] See: https://www.aclu.org/map/stingray-tracking-devices-whos-got-them

[6] See: http://www.extremetech.com/mobile/184597-stingray-the-fake-cell-phone-tower-cops-and-providers-use-to-track-your-every-move

[7] See: https://www.wired.com/2016/04/spy-tool-ruling-inches-stingray-debate-closer-supreme-court/