U.S. feds’ use of fake cell tower violate Fourth Amendment provision against unreasonable search?

“Federal authorities used a fake Verizon cellphone tower to zero in on a suspect’s wireless card, and say they were perfectly within their rights to do so, even without a warrant,” Kim Zetter reports for Wired.

“But the feds don’t seem to want that legal logic challenged in court by the alleged identity thief they nabbed using the spoofing device, known generically as a stingray. So the government is telling a court for the first time that spoofing a legitimate wireless tower in order to conduct surveillance could be considered a search under the Fourth Amendment in this particular case, and that its use was legal, thanks to a court order and warrant that investigators used to get similar location data from Verizon’s own towers,” Zetter reports. “The government is likely using the argument to avoid a court showdown that might reveal how stingrays work and open debate into the tool’s legality.”

“According to an affidavit submitted to the court (.pdf) by the chief of the FBI’s Tracking Technology Unit, the stingray is designed to capture only the equivalent of header information — such as the phone or account number assigned to the aircard as well as dialing, routing and address information involved in the communication. As such, the government has maintained that the device is the equivalent of devices designed to capture routing and header data on e-mail and other internet communications, and therefore does not require a search warrant,” Zetter reports. “The device, however, doesn’t just capture information related to a targeted phone. It captures data from ‘all wireless devices in the immediate area of the FBI device that subscribe to a particular provider’ — including data of innocent people who are not the target of the investigation, according to the affidavit. FBI policy requires agents purge all data stored in the surveillance tool at the conclusion of an operation, so that the FBI is not collecting ‘information about individuals who are not the subject of criminal or national security investigations,’ the affidavit added.”

Zetter reports, “After the judge indicated he’d seek more information about the device, prosecutors conceded that in this case its use could be considered a search. They also argued that its use was covered by a court order and a warrant that authorities used to obtain near real-time tracking information directly from Verizon Wireless. A separate tracking warrant, prosecutors say, wasn’t necessary for its fake tower.”

Much more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Edward Weber” for the heads up.]


  1. Let’s see, wasn’t it the FBI who lost a laptop containing SS numbers of military veterans? Their response was we will keep an eye on the situation for you. You were the idiots that lost the numbers in the first place and you expect me to believe that the information you receive on non targets won’t be scanned? That is too wide a net that is being cast for one legitimate target. I locked down the three credit reporting agencies.

      1. Everyone and their mother are tracking us anyways and certainly our ISPs. I guess what irked me about the SS thing was I had to pay 30 dollars to lock down the credit reporting agencies. The lock down does work because I forgot about it and when I applied for a loan the bank called me back and said the agencies would not release my information. So if someone got my SS# they can’t get a loan or credit card so that afforded me some protection. Sorry if off topic.

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