How and Why the Government Snoops Through Your Phone

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At a congressional hearing, new details became public about how and why federal law enforcement tricks your cellphone into giving up information.

New details about how and why federal law-enforcement agents snoop through U.S. citizens’ cellphones became public during a congressional hearing Wednesday.

Officials from the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security addressed questions and concerns from members of Congress about the use of warrants and a technology known as Stingray, CNN Money reports.

Stingray technology can simulate or mimic a cellphone tower and trick a cellphone into connecting with the technology.

Officials testified that their policy is to use Stingrays only to track a person’s location, not to collect data from cellphones.

Rep. Rod Blum, a Republican from Iowa, wrote to CNNMoney after the hearing:

“Our citizens deserve far more transparency when it comes to their Fourth Amendment rights (preventing unreasonable searches and seizures).”

USA Today reports that a Department of Homeland Security official said Wednesday that federal investigators from DHS, Immigration and the Secret Service must now obtain search warrants before using Stingrays.

This new policy does not apply to state and local law-enforcement agencies, however, unless state or local agents are working with federal agents on a case.

Additionally, USA Today reports, there are exceptions to the federal policy, with agents not required to obtain warrants in certain situations, such as when an agency must act immediately to protect human life or the Secret Service must act immediately to protect the president from a potential threat.

Also, Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Technology, notes in the USA Today story that the policy does not apply to federal intelligence agencies such as the CIA and National Security Agency.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, said in a statement:

“The Department of Homeland Security’s new policy on cell-site simulators is a positive first step in responding to the very serious privacy implications posed by cell phone tracking technology, but … I am disappointed that DHS has included the same problematic exception to the warrant requirement that is in the Justice Department’s policy…

“We must ensure stronger protections for the privacy rights of innocent Americans who are not the targets of an investigation.”

What’s your take on this new information about the use of warrants in connection with Stingray technology? Share your thoughts below or on Facebook.

Stacy Johnson

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