‘Stingray’ Phone Tracker Fuels Constitutional Clash
From the page: “Stingrays are one of several new technologies used by law enforcement to track people’s locations, often without a search warrant. These techniques are driving a constitutional debate about whether the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, but which was written before the digital age, is keeping pace with the times. On Nov. 8, the Supreme Court will hear arguments over whether or not police need a warrant before secretly installing a GPS device on a suspect’s car and tracking him for an extended period. In both the Senate and House, new bills would require a warrant before tracking a cellphone’s location.
A stingray works by mimicking a cellphone tower, getting a phone to connect to it and measuring signals from the phone. It lets the stingray operator “ping,” or send a signal to, a phone and locate it as long as it is powered on, according to documents reviewed by the Journal. The device has various uses, including helping police locate suspects and aiding search-and-rescue teams in finding people lost in remote areas or buried in rubble after an accident. Experts say lawmakers and the courts haven’t yet settled under what circumstances locating a person or device constitutes a search requiring a warrant. Tracking people when they are home is particularly sensitive because the Fourth Amendment specifies that people have a right to be secure against unreasonable searches in their “houses.”
“The law is uncertain,” says Orin Kerr, a professor at George Washington University Law School and former computer-crime attorney at the Department of Justice. Mr. Kerr, who has argued that warrants should be required for some, but not all, types of location data, says that the legality “should depend on the technology.””