Congress

Chaffetz bills would outlaw warrantless stingray use

Shutterstock image. 

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has introduced two bills to restrict law enforcement use of technologies capable of tracking users via their cell phones.

Cell-site simulators, known by the trade name "stingrays," emulate cellular network towers to collect mobile phone data, and are used by some government agencies to determine geolocation of user devices.

The Cell Location Privacy Act would require all domestic law enforcement to obtain a probable cause warrant before using cell-site simulators, permitting exceptions for foreign intelligence surveillance and "exigent circumstances"

Similarly, but more broadly, the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act, which Chaffetz and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced to their respective chambers in the 114th Congress, would establish a legal framework that governs the use of geolocation technologies, by law enforcement and non-government entities alike.

Chaffetz said at a Feb. 15 Cato Institute event these bills were "crucial to restoring trust" between law enforcement and the public.

The congressman acknowledged "there are very legitimate uses of this technology," such as missing persons or abduction cases in which a warrant has been acquired, but warned that geolocation technology "is ripe for abuse."

"Everybody wants to be safe, everybody wants to be secure, but that, to me, doesn't mean… that law enforcement needs to know everything about me all the time," Chaffetz said.

Without first obtaining a warrant, "I think it's a violation of our Fourth Amendment rights, I think it's an invasion of our privacy," he said. "Tracking everybody, especially a suspicion-less American, is too far."

In the past, DOJ has argued a probable cause warrant is not necessary to obtain "historical" geolocation data.

In December, the House Oversight Committee released a bipartisan report that discovered the federal government spent about $100 million between fiscal years 2010 and 2014 on cell-site simulators. DOJ purchased the most over this span, spending more than $71 million on 310 cell-site simulators, while DHS added more than $24 million on 124 simulators. The Internal Revenue Service also has purchased these devices.

Chaffetz has long wanted to rein in the government's use of stingray technology. He first introduced the GPS Act in 2011, when, despite attracting 27 co-sponsors, it did not gain much legislative traction.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

Featured

  • Cybersecurity

    DHS floats 'collective defense' model for cybersecurity

    Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wants her department to have a more direct role in defending the private sector and critical infrastructure entities from cyberthreats.

  • Defense
    Defense Secretary James Mattis testifies at an April 12 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.

    Mattis: Cloud deal not tailored for Amazon

    On Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought to quell "rumors" that the Pentagon's planned single-award cloud acquisition was designed with Amazon Web Services in mind.

  • Census
    shutterstock image

    2020 Census to include citizenship question

    The Department of Commerce is breaking with recent practice and restoring a question about respondent citizenship last used in 1950, despite being urged not to by former Census directors and outside experts.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.