Thursday, April 7, 2016

Court Rules Against Warrantless Tracking Technology

An appeals court in Maryland has ruled that police cannot use cellphones as a “real-time tracking device” without a warrant-- which would call into question hundreds, if not thousands, of convictions in Baltimore – and set a precedent for similar privacy cases across the U.S.

The ruling by Maryland’s second-highest court was the first by an appeals court to hold that using cell site simulator technology known as Stingray without a warrant violates an individual’s fourth amendment protections against illegal search and seizure.  The technology, which is produced by the Harris corporation and is widely used by law enforcement and the IRS, imitates a cell tower, forces a phone to send a signal and traps metadata from phones that can reveal their location.

An ACLU report shows that 61 agencies in 23 states and the District of Columbia have purchased Stingray devices, but this is one of the first times that the full scope of this technology has made it into the public record of a courtroom – due in part to non-disclosure agreements between the Harris corporation, the FBI and local jurisdictions. In 2011, Baltimore signed such an agreement that prevents the police department or state’s attorney’s office from even acknowledging use of the technology.

“It’s shocking,” public defender Deborah Levi said. “They engage in a third-party contracts to violate people’s constitutional rights.”

The state has 16 days to appeal against the ruling to the state’s highest court, and legal observers expect it could reach the U.S. supreme court.

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