After recent reports revealed that the IRS purchased StingRays — portable devices capable of collecting detailed information on every mobile phone within a given range — congressmen have asked two-dozen other agencies to explain if and how they’ve used similar technology.
Four members of the House Oversight Committee sent letters to the Departments of State, Agriculture and 22 other agencies on Monday with requests for information regarding the government’s use of cell-site simulators.
Specifically, the letters compel that each of the agencies respond to whether they own any cell-signal simulators, as well as the number of devices acquired, any memos regarding their use and what policies, if any, are in place.
“Recent press reports indicate that federal law enforcement agencies other than DOJ and DHS may be using cell-site simulation devices, including the Internal Revenue Service,” the lawmakers wrote.
“As it was with DOJ and DHS before those agencies issued department-wide policies governing use of the devices, the Committee is concerned that other federal agencies may be governed by a patchwork of policies. Those policies may permit the use of cell-site simulator devices through a lower standard than a search warrant obtained after a showing of probable cause.”
The American Civil Liberties Union said at least 13 federal agencies and 50 state and local departments have acquired the surveillance tech, which are commonly referred to as StingRays — a popular version of the tool that’s manufactured by Harris Corp. of Florida and sold to law enforcement agencies across the country.
The letters all request a response within two weeks’ time and are signed by Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican; ranking member Elijah Cummings, Maryland Democrat; as well as Will Hurd, Texas Republican, and Robin Kelly, Illinois Democrat. All four congressman sent an identical letter to the IRS last month after reports emerged concerning the agency’s acquisition of StingRays.
Last week Mr. Chaffetz proposed legislation that would make it illegal for authorities to use StingRays without first obtaining a warrant.
“When you find out the IRS and potentially others are using this tech — whoa! That’s a bridge too far,” he told the Guardian. “If they have [probable] cause, go get a warrant. But if you’re just on a surfing expedition, back off.”