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Stingray Surveillance Is On The Rise

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Wednesday, April 6th, 2016


As per reports published by several reputed media outlets, the use of stingray surveillance is on the rise in many different parts of the world. The controversial technology is not only being used by federal agencies like FBI, DEA and US Marshals but also by IRS as well as many local law enforcement agencies. Recently, the IRS admitted to using the surveillance method to monitor the private data and conversations of citizens while in Canada the technology was in the news when the Vancouver Police Department refused to acknowledge the existence of a similar type of surveillance program.

What Is Stingray Surveillance And Why Is It So Dangerous?

Stingray surveillance refers to a surveillance technique which is carried out through cell-site simulators. These briefcase sized devices emit extremely powerful mobile signals and force cellphones in the nearby area into connecting to them. The signals of these devices is even stronger than the signal emitted by cell towers which is why the surveillance technique is so effective. By emitting a powerful signal over a large area, stingray systems can extract sensitive information like Unique IDs, location and movement, text messages and even call records from thousands of mobile devices.

The use of stingray surveillance is controversial because of the way it works. While traditional surveillance systems target only certain people, this surveillance technique can target even innocent people who just happen to be in the vicinity of the cell-site simulator. Civil liberty groups have also questioned the legality of this technique because it is being used by law enforcement agencies to extract extremely sensitive information from civilians. Stingray surveillance systems even disrupt cell phone services because they reroute the devices to nearby cell towers after extracting information from them.

The widespread misuse of the technology forced the Justice Department to draft the Stingray Privacy Act (also known as Cell-Site Simulator Act). The act mandates all federal agencies to disclose the use of the technology as well as get a warrant before making use of it to target mobile users. However, civil liberty groups have pointed out that the current act is applicable only for the federal agencies and would not prevent local law enforcement agencies from misusing it. A group of Congressmen have now proposed amendment to the act to fix this particular loophole.

The use of stingray surveillance by the federal agencies is indeed a matter of concern for ordinary civilians. Since the technology can cover a large area and capture sensitive information from thousands of mobile devices, it can be considered as indiscriminate targeting of civilians by the law enforcement agencies. While the Stingray Privacy Act provides a ray of hope to the privacy conscious users, it offers no guarantee that the surveillance method would be abandoned by the authorities. As a matter of fact, IRS has not admitted to using the Stingray surveillance method, it has also expressed its willingness to continue using the technique in the future. This alone speaks volumes about how valuable the technology has proven as far as surveillance is concerned.


April 6, 2016
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