Bipartisan legislation proposed in both houses of Congress would require local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to get a warrant to use so-called “stingray” devices that suck up cellphone data.
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and California Rep. Ted Lieu, both Democrats, introduced the legislation Thursday with Sen. Steve Daines of Montana and Rep. Tom McClintock of California, both Republicans.
The bill would set nationwide rules for how authorities use stingrays, or cell site simulators, reining in what its sponsors described as invasive and unconstitutional surveillance devices.
“Cell site simulators have existed in a kind of legal no-man’s land for far too long,” Mr. Wyden said in a statement, adding the bill would establish “clear, transparent rules” for when they may be used.
Stingrays are portable devices that mimic cell towers. They covertly broadcast signals that force cellphones within range to send back unique data that can then be accessed by authorities. The devices are capable of collecting sensitive device and location data from nearby phones, among other information, and can help authorities to identify all cellphones within range of their deployment.
No federal law regulates the use of the devices.
The Cell Site Simulator Warrant Act would require authorities to obtain a probable cause warrant to use the technology, and it would limit their usage to situations where other methods have failed.
Additionally, the bill would require authorities to minimize data collected from the cellphones of bystanders, and it would provide a right of action for individuals who are illegally surveilled to sue.
“In violation of basic constitutional principles, these devices can capture a massive amount of metadata and content from a broad swath of devices all at once,” said Mr. Lieu, a computer science major and lawyer before being elected to Congress.
Mr. Lieu added he was concerned about reports that stingray devices may have been deployed on Black Lives Matter protesters, saying the legislation called for “common-sense” limitations.
“The Fourth Amendment means what it says, even in the digital age,” Mr. McClintock said in a statement, referring to the constitutional guarantees against unlawful searches and searches.
Mr. Wyden‘s office said the legislation is supported by more than a dozen civil liberty advocacy groups, including the Center for Democracy and Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and FreedomWorks.
No vote on the bill is currently scheduled.