- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced legislation this week that would restrict the use of secret cellphone tracking systems by local law enforcement agencies.

Federal law enforcement agencies already have begun to rein in their use of StingRays or other cell-site simulators, requiring warrants before they are used. Cell-site simulators mimic cellular towers to trick phones to connect to them, enabling investigators to obtain identifying information about the phones and their locations.

“The abuse of StingRays and other cell-site simulators by individuals, including law enforcement, could enable gross violations of privacy,” said Mr. Chaffetz, Utah Republican.

Law enforcement officers often deploy the suitcase-sized StingRays by hauling them in vehicles as they drive through neighborhoods looking for suspects’ phones, scooping up data on the cellphones of any passers-by in the process.

The legislation would require that law enforcement obtain warrants for use of the devices in most cases. Agencies would also be permitted to use the devices without a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and in emergency situations.

The legislation proposed would make it a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison for using the devices outside the scope of the law.

The Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security in recent months adopted regulations requiring warrants to be obtained in most cases before cell-site simulators are deployed. It was disclosed late last month that the Internal Revenue Service has used the devices, prompting other top lawmakers to request an inquiry into the practice.

“The fact that law enforcement agencies, and non-law-enforcement agencies such as the IRS, have invested in these devices raises serious questions about who is using this technology and why,” Mr. Chaffetz said. “These questions demonstrate the need for strict guidelines that carry the weight of the law.”

Privacy advocates have expressed concern over loopholes in the internal regulations and the speed at which technology is developed and such regulations made irrelevant.

“It’s important that legislation addresses not only StingRays, but also the surveillance devices of tomorrow that collect similar information,” said Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Otherwise, we risk creating a law that is quickly made obsolete by advances in technology.”

Officials from the Justice and Homeland Security departments said Tuesday that they were aware of the legislation but had no immediate comments on it.

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