The ‘stingray’ assault: Get a warrant

First Posted: 1/11/2015

JANUARY 11, 2015 — Law enforcement’s warrantless use of surveillance technology ignores and mocks Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. The latest insult to Americans’ rights is the FBI’s insistence that it can indiscriminately gather the identities and locations — and intercept the calls and texts — of those using cellphones in public places.

As we’ve noted before, the FBI does so via “stingray” devices that mimic cell towers. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and fellow member Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., are questioning an FBI policy exception that allows warrantless “stingray” use in public places.

So long as they’re not shouting, cellphone users do have a reasonable expectation of privacy in public places. Warrantless cellphone monitoring there is just as “unreasonable” as seizing a letter written in a coffeehouse would be.

It’s the same principle behind the Supreme Court ruling requiring warrants for GPS tracking of suspects’ vehicles and behind nine states’ laws, plus rulings by Massachusetts’ and Florida’s highest courts, requiring warrants for real-time cellphone tracking.

The FBI’s warrantless “stingray” use necessitates more such judicial and legislative actions that guard against law-enforcement overreach by reinforcing the Fourth Amendment’s essential requirement of getting a warrant.

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