Do Cops Need a Warrant to Track Down Your Cell Phone?

A fraud case in Arizona raises the issue of whether police need a search warrant to use "stingrays," devices that enable them to locate people's mobile phones by mimicking cell towers. The FBI used a stingray to find Daniel David Rigmaiden, who is accused of stealing $4 million by filing phony online tax returns. It obtained two court orders authorizing use of the device to zero in on his mobile broadband card. One was a pen register/trap and trace order, which requires only that a law enforcement agency certify that the surveillance is relevant to an investigation. The classic use for such orders is obtaining the phone numbers dialed by a target or the numbers from which he receives calls, information the Supreme Court says is not protected by the Fourth Amendment because you voluntarily relinquish it to the phone company. (The restrictions for this kind of surveillance, such as they are, were imposed by statute.) The FBI says it also obtained a search warrant to use the stingray, based on a showing of probable cause. Rigmaiden's lawyers argue that the order was not a proper search warrant becase it did not specify the technology to be used and allowed the FBI to delete the information it collected. In any case, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies maintain that a search warrant is not legally required to use a stingray.

The legal question is whether stingrays—which can track someone to his home (as in Rigmaiden's case) or to other places where he has a reasonable expectation of privacy—is more akin to a pen register or trap and trace device, which can be used without a warrant, or to a wiretap, which requires a warrant. It seems strange that demanding someone's records from a third party would require less of a showing than using a device that requires no cooperation or physical intrusion. Yet that is the implication of the Supreme Court's 2001 ruling in Kyllo v. U.S., which held that police need a warrant to monitor the infrared energy emitted by a home. Using a stingray is analogous to thermal imaging in the sense that both can reveal information about what is going on inside people's houses, a domain the Fourth Amendment specifically mentions. (In fact, a stingray is arguably more intrusive, since it works by drawing signals from phones, as opposed to passively measuring heat.) But the Fourth Amendment also mentions "papers," a concept that should cover information we entrust to third parties for specific purposes. Because the Supreme Court has said the Fourth Amendment does not apply to such information, it receives only the protection that Congress decides to give it.

[Thanks to Tricky Vic for the tip.]

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  • ||

    The classic use for such orders is obtaining the phone numbers dialed by a target or the numbers from which he receives calls, information the Supreme Court says is not protected by the Fourth Amendment because you voluntarily relinquish it to the phone company.

    And of course, liberals believe that it would be horrible if corporations had Fourth Amendment rights allowing them to resist turning it over.

  • ||

    It's not at all clear that you understand what "liberalism" is.

  • teh rael o2||

    trash on the curb has no expectation of privacy like raadiowaves floating in the ethers.

  • THANKS!||

    Then you don't mind me...coaxing the security to be friendly on your wireless access point, then using it, or capturing your cell signals.

    THANKS!

  • ||

    This is the high-tech equivalent of showing a fugitive's picture to people on the street and asking if they've seen him.

    I just can't get over how viscerally averse Reason is to technological replacements for decades-old, perfectly constitutional police work. First red light/speed cameras and now this.

  • ||

    This is the high-tech equivalent of showing a fugitive's picture to people on the street and asking if they've seen him.

    This is the Tulpa equivalent of complete bullshit.

  • ||

    It's very discouraging to engage in all that cogitation and typing and only get a "nuh-uh" for a response.

  • ||

    Cogitation? More like agitation.

  • ||

    It's very disturbing that you think what you wrote deserves a serious response.

  • ||

    With the redlight cameras, there is substantial evidence that municipalities monkey with the timing for revenue purposes. I think that's a bad thing.

  • ||

    Yes, it is. There's also evidence that cops lie on the stand. That doesn't mean we should outlaw cops.

  • Almanian||

    If we outlaw cops, only cops will be outlaws.

  • ||

    It's the other way around. "only outlaws would be cops" which is probably actually true.

  • Pip||

    Yes, it is. There's also evidence that cops lie on the stand. That doesn't mean we should outlaw cops

  • anarch||

    I like the idea of outlawing cops, but who would enforce that law?

  • CE||

    You could just hire someone to enforce it.

  • ||

    And hope they don't turn around and "enforce" you paying them double what you agreed to.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Not to mention the thousands of tickets that have been issued as a result of a car simply crossing the line while stopping rather than actually running the light.

  • ||

    Same thing. The law says you have to stop behind the white line.

  • ||

    God damn, you are tedious. You've been way more tedious lately. Did your Zoloft prescription run out?

  • ||

    He offered the world order!

  • ||

    THIS IS CETI ALPHA FIVE!!!

  • ||

    Please stand behind the white line.

  • ||

    You are in a position to demand nothing. I, on the other hand, am in a position to grant nothing.

  • ||

    I'm afraid I must insist, Mr. Singh. There's a hefty fine for stepping over the white line, even on Ceti Alpha Five.

  • ||

    Captain, Captain, Captain...save your strength. These people have sworn to live and die at my command two hundred years before you were born.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    You fled. Why? Were you afraid?

  • ||

    I've never been afraid.

  • ||

    You guys have been claiming I'm "more tedious" continually for years now. Those claims are getting tedious.

  • Gojira||

    In reality your insistance that "the law is the law" is a farce, and you damn well know it. If every law was auto-enforced to perfection by machines and cameras, civilization would collapse within 2 hours. There must be discretion involved in enforcement.

    Just saying, "well the law says you have to stop behind the white line" is an excuse to avoid making a real argument. "The law says..." a bunch of shit that I'm sure you don't even know you violate daily.

    Oh, and...

    Yours... is... superior...
    [dies]

  • ||

    If every law was auto-enforced to perfection by machines and cameras, civilization would collapse within 2 hours.

    Nah. If every law was absolutely enforced, we'd wind up with a lot fewer laws.

    If you can't stop before going past the white line, you can't stop before hitting a pedestrian either, and thus you shouldn't be driving. Most drivers are totally capable of stopping at the right place but develop the lazy habit of going past it because the law is rarely enforced.

    As you can see, lax enforcement is hardly a friend of liberty.

  • ||

    Just saying, "well the law says you have to stop behind the white line" is an excuse to avoid making a real argument.

    I was responding to a post claiming that rolling over the white line is not a traffic violation. "The law says..." is a perfectly valid argument when discussing what the law says.

  • Gojira||

    I was responding to a post claiming that rolling over the white line is not a traffic violation. "The law says..." is a perfectly valid argument when discussing what the law says.

    Actually, that person was mocking the fact that thousands of tickets are sent out for what is, in essence, an innocuous thing that everyone, including you, has done and probably continues to do everyday.

    He wasn't denying it was a law, he was denying that strict automated enforcement of such a trivial infraction makes sense.

    And no, we wouldn't have "less laws", if you personally are a typical example, since essentially the argument you're making is that everyone gets what they deserve for breaking the law. People like that wouldn't want less laws...they would want harsher/stricter enforcement of the laws already on the books. And your defense of red-light cameras, which may ticket someone trying to stop safely (without slamming on their breaks) when they don't want to chance running through on yellow, is a perfect example of this.

  • Why is Tulpa such an asshole||

    I was responding to a post claiming that rolling over the white line is not a traffic violation.

    NO, liar, you were not.

    You were responding to a post which mentioned that many of the red light cameras issue tickets based not on running red lights, but instead, crossing the white line, however fractionally.

    That, in a nutshell, is my major problem with you, you simply can't read worth a fuck, yet you insist on pretending your pedantic interpretation of others' posts is your justification for acting.

  • ||

    Oooh, looks like the anonymous pussy has a problem with me. Maybe I should follow your example and change my name every time I post so no one can develop "major problems" with me.

    In any case, context matters. The poster was clearly implying that crossing the white line isn't against the law, otherwise why would they complain about people being ticketed for crossing the white line?

  • ||

    You crossed the white line.

  • ||

    I shall avenge you.

  • ||

    You want a free society? Demand absolute enforcement of every law by law enforcement.

    It was the bleeding heart liberals you guys infallibly line up with on non-economic issues that gave us the crazy quilt of arbitrarian statism we deal with today, not the law and order types.

  • Gojira||

    Yeah, don't look now, but both Team Red and Team Blue states have prison problems. If you don't think law n' order types have anything to do with the continuing popularity of the WoD, then you're too far down the rabbit hole to have a serious conversation with.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    You go right on quoting regulations.

  • Gojira||

    You go right on quoting regulations.

    I am ashamed to say that it took me several seconds to remember that line and it's context. I need to watch that movie again all the way through without the rifftrax on.

  • ||

    Humor. It is a difficult concept (for Tulpa). It is not logical.

  • ||

    If true law and order types were given free rein they would quickly draw the ire of the population. Because the bleeding hearts hold them back, we wind up with ridiculously strict laws that are enforced in a haphazard manner that also guarantees that most people never get screwed by them.

  • Gojira||

    That has to be the stupidest argument ever made /hyperbole. It's the liberals fault for NOT allowing fascists free reign so that everyone can see how terrible they are?

    What if they pulled back, and enough terrified suburban white people chanting "it's for the children" just rolled with the law n' order punches, and everything just gets a lot worse?

    You're basically making the argument that it's better to make things worse for everybody, so that hopefully they'll revolt (metaphorically speaking) in favor of your particular philosophy. Hey, why not; it worked for Lenin!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I'm not so sure it's entirely off base. While I don't know if laws strictly and uniformly enforced would make lawmakers and regulators think twice about a law's overbearing demands or vague language, it might bring about a public outcry to go back and fix bad legislation.

    More than likely, however, any outcry would just bring us to where we are today as the public lobbies enforcers to agree to ease back and use discretion. It's probably a lost cause.

    But I don't believe in the no-win scenario.

  • ||

    Then you never faced that situation...faced death.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Just words...

  • Gojira||

    I'm not so sure it's entirely off base.

    I'll have to respectfully disagree with both you and Tulpa then. I don't believe in making things worse for people, ever...even if I feel it will be "for their own good" in the long-run, as long as they react the way I feel they should (negatively).

    There's too much personal feeling and "it's for your own good" in that situation for me to support it; it reeks of low-scale social engineering (if only we can make this shitty enough on purpose, people might react some way that I want them to).

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Oh, I'm not advocating it. I'm suggesting possible outcomes. But in all honesty, I don't really like having ridiculous laws hanging over our heads that we all accept because it's "unlikely" they will be enforced.

    Something perfectly reasonable I do every day suddenly and arbitrarily gets me in trouble? They say, "You did it, and police and prosecutors decided today to hold you to it."

    I did NOTHING! Except get caught with my britches down.

  • Gojira||

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not excited about piles of laws that could snare anyone at any time.

    I'm only saying that social engineering rarely works out the way one intends, so in this case, the "cure" could very well be worse than the "disease".

  • ||

    I don't believe in making things worse for people, ever

    I hope you don't support cutting govt spending then, because there are a TON of people who will suffer when that happens.

  • tarran||

    Tulpa, the Socratic method works when one is asking intelligent questions. When you do it, it's like watching a toddler painting with fingerpaints at the Louvre: cute at first, then increasingly monotonous and insipid as the afternoon wears on.

  • robc||

    I hope you don't support cutting govt spending then, because there are a TON of people who will suffer when that happens.

    Wrong. They will be more free, thus better off. They are worse off being on the government teat.

  • Wayne||

    When the revenue extracted from citizens by red-light cameras is rebated back to tax payers, with not one cent kept by the government, then I will end my objection to red-light cameras.

  • WHy is Tulpa such an asshole||

    You are the low-tech equivalent of a human being.

  • cynical||

    It's more like the high tech equivalent of tapping his phone to find him because you know he calls up a friend every so often to inform the friend of his whereabouts.

  • ||

    Using a stingray is analogous to thermal imaging in the sense that both can reveal information about what is going on inside people's houses, a domain the Fourth Amendment specifically mentions.

    Any information the stingray has access to is also accessible to the wireless carrier as far as the phone possessor knows. So there's no expectation of privacy for such information.

  • ||

    According to current law. Who says current law is just?

  • ||

    You have an agreement (sort of) with your wireless carrier, that information is necessary for your phone to work, and AT&T et al can't charge you with a crime.

    ""So there's no expectation of privacy for such information.""

    I'm not so sure that's the proper light. If I bought a Stingray, would I be violating any laws capturing other peoples data?

  • ||

    You'd be unlawfully interfering with radio transmission on an FCC assigned frequency, which is a violation of federal law.

  • ||

    How would I be interfering?

  • ||

    You have to broadcast a signal on a reserved frequency to get the phone to respond.

  • Why is Tulpa such an asshole||

    Which didn't answer his question.

  • ||

    ""You have to broadcast a signal on a reserved frequency to get the phone to respond.""

    Broadcasting isn't interfering unless it's done in a manner that disrupts other people's broadcasts or reception. That isn't the case here.

  • robc||

    So local PDs are in violation of federal law using a stingray.

  • The Boston Cockstrangler||

    If I bought a Stingray, would I be violating any laws capturing other peoples data?

    This is the proper way to look at it. Absent a warrant, the cops should have legal access to exactly as much (or as little) information as the rest of us.

  • ||

    So you want your name, address, drivers license number, insurance policy information, outstanding warrants and address record to be available to anyone who knows your license plate number?

  • Vegetarian Salt Corporation ||

    Other way around retard

  • ||

    Actually, I think plenty of people do have an expectation of privacy when their information is handled by a third party.

    If you're just talking about what the law says, then we can disagree about it.

    Would it be legal to set up a cellular company where that presumption of privacy was explicitly in the contract of service? Would the carrier then have the right to resist if they wished?

  • ||

    hmm|9.11.10 @ 6:40AM|#

    TrickyVic: How LEOs use information will make leaps and bounds in years to come. It shouldn't be long before cellphone data is always used to find out who might be a witness to a crime. Having a list of names and numbers. Sure beats old school canvassing.

    Hmm: Orwell much?

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    This system does not reveal any information regarding the activities of the handset or user. It only forces a handset to say, "Here I am!" The information used to make the device talk to the Stingray is broadcast nearly every-time the handset does anything on the network.

    I would have to come down on Tulpa's side of this there is little difference between using this equipment and having an informant or undercover cop tell the pursuing officers that a suspect is in a given location.

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    Well, identify where the suspect's phone is at any rate.

  • ||

    Getting information from a person about another person is not the same thing as tampering with someone's property to get information.

  • Almanian||

    *turns off cell phone when not making a call from a secure location*

    Fucking "Eagle Eye" is one step closer. Wonderful.

  • ||

    Funny how so few people oppose the surveillance state today compared to 20 years ago when they thought it would be science fiction.

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    There are many egregious examples of technical surveillance being used to violate people's rights.

    This is not one of them, unless you consider the location of your phone (because that is all the information that this particular system, using simple radio direction finding, garners) to be protected information.

  • ||

    Who says a surveillance state necessarilly violates anyone's rights?

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    Then I am not completely sure what your complaint is.

    It seems that you are offering a Luddite complaint about cellular technology in general.

    Let me ask you this, if a trucker is suspected of a crime and the police use the his CB handle/call-sign to locate said trucker have the trucker's rights been violated? Because this is exactly analogous to how this system operates.

  • ||

    Who's complaining?

    The closest thing I have to a complaint is the acknowledgement that people really don't care about being surveilled by government anymore.

    I've never stated the use of this equipment violates anyone's right. I don't know enought about it to make that claim.

    ""Because this is exactly analogous to how this system operates.""

    Not exactly. This system mimicks a cell tower, so it's a fake cell tower. Nothing is faked in your example.

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    Let me refine my analogy then. This exactly analogous to how the system locates handsets. The only difference is how the call sign is deciphered and the transmitter is identified.

  • ||

    Another difference is that CB and Ham radios are public broadcasts and have no expectation of privacy whatsoever. Being that we are talking about phones, which have had some right to privacy in the past, it may be a little different. SCOTUS will probably have the last word.

  • ||

    If you are talking only about finding the direction of a radio signal, I'll agree 100%

    But I'd guess that the Stingray boxes do a little something to decode the transmission. How else would it know which phone is which? So how do we know it doesn't have the capibility to decode the voice data?

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    The information that the Stingray uses to locate the handset is a digital signal, sent in the clear with zero encryption. This information is broadcast very often, particularly when the phone is turned on, and can be intercepted without decryption.

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    Now the only sticking point where I might agree with you is that the Stingray does not collect and identify the information needed to track a phone. That information would have to be gotten from the service provider or intercept of a phone conversation where you could identify one of the individuals speaking as the suspect or fugitive.

    That is to say that the operator has to tell the Stingray what to look for and that info has to come via another means.

  • ||

    ""Now the only sticking point where I might agree with you is that the Stingray does not collect and identify the information needed to track a phone. ""

    It must have that capability else how would it know it was that particular phone. And the doesn't save data is probably bullshit. Much like Airport body scanners doesn't, so they say. Cell phones use time divison multiplexing. A fancy way of saying many phones operate on the same frequency when transmitting. Every cell phone receives data from everyone other phone on that frequency and uses a method (dot product for some) that drops all packets that doesn't belong to that phone.

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    PRO TIP: If you are on the lam use pay-as-you-go phones payed for with cash.

  • ||

    Right, only criminals need to worry about a surveillance state.

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    See my above post.

  • ||

    Thankfully The Wire taught us all about burners. The only people they'll catch unawares are non-criminals, which I'm sure is so much more fun!

  • ||

    rubbish. the only thing stupider than the myth of govt. supercompetence, is the myth of universal intelligent, careful criminals.

    MOST criminals we catch are either reckless, very dumb, or very unlucky, or a combination of above.

  • ||

    dunphy sez: Be smart or I will have to put on my latex gloves!

  • Dunce-Phy||

    Everyone is guilty until the courts find they're not.

  • ||

    a substantial %age of people arrested are not guilty.

    duh

  • Vegetarian Salt Corporation ||

    Then why the fuck were they arrested? Seems like you're pretty damn incompetent with regards to your job. One might even say so incompetent that those paying your salary should fire you and perhaps demand compensation for dollars and time lost on such a bumbling idiot.

  • ||

    ouch

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    Um, so you're saying that dunphy should immediately be able to detect false accusations or misidentified suspects? Why?

  • Old Woman wid a Glock||

    No, but if he screws up, he should be held personally liable. No damn reason at all why a government employee should have more protection from screwing up on their job than a 7-11 clerk has.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    It depends what you mean by 'screwing up'.

  • Barf.||

    Wow, VSC (and all the other names it posts under) is kind of an asshole.

    Also, what Art said below...

  • ||

    ""MOST criminals we catch are either reckless, very dumb, or very unlucky, or a combination of above.""

    True.

    The smarter ones are harder to catch. We're DB Cooper?

  • CE||

    *turns off cell phone when not making a call from a secure location*

    You really think that just because you turn it off the microphone doesn't work, and the government can't locate it???? Oh boy.

  • ||

    I am not very comfortable with the methods used to legally define 'expectation of privacy'.
    Actually I fully expect the numbers I dial to be only between myself and the person I dial. The phone company only has them because they must to facilitate the call. That doesnt mean I expect them to publish the damn things in the local paper.
    Also, the stingray is not analogous to passive reception of radiated heat. The stingray just tells where you are. I could get that from driving by and seeing lights on. Monitoring infra-red energy from your home on the other hand, depending on the device used, could easily render video images of you inside your home.

    Oh, and Tulpa...stopping slightly across the white line isnt what they 'ticket' you for. They ticket you for running the light. Here in Louisiana we have been doing battle with the red-light camera scam for a while. It is easy to deal with now that the courts have ruled that the tickets are not valid. Certain municipalities still send them out. We dont pay them. They cant charge us with anything so they call it a debt and send to a collection agency. Then we just demand to see proof of the debt, of which there is none. Fuck them.
    My favorite traffic cam story is the one of the Cajun in Sulphur who noticed a van parked on his vacant lot ( an un-manned van with a cam in it) and called the tow company, had the damn thing towed. Ha!

  • ||

    Crossing the white line IS disobeying the traffic signal as far as the law is concerned. Otherwise you could pull half way into the intersection and sit there during the red light and claim you didn't run it.

  • Why is Tulpa such an asshole||

    But crossing the white line is NOT the same thing, legally. They are different laws, generally, and are also dealt with differently.

    In short, you are the only moron pretending they are the same thing, even the government says you're full of shit.

  • ||

    The Sting Ray is analogous to passive reception of radiated heat. Infrared is just on a different part of the radio spectrum. Receiving any information outside of the visual spectrum should be off limits.

    The Sting ray receives the cell phones uplink, capturing RF info, like an infrared camera.

  • edg reppin' lbc on my droid||

    Will the police be able to track me home from this bar? Oh shit!

  • jauneeta||

    If the cops want to know where you are, why shouldn't they be allowed to keep track of you. You might be doing something bad, like stepping over the white line, or something.

  • Tulpa||

    Finally, a sensible post!

  • ||

    DIAF spoofer.

  • Why is Tulpa such an asshole||

    Just die asshole.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    Why won't you pick a handle?

  • CE||

    Or a "national border".

  • CE||

    ...information the Supreme Court says is not protected by the Fourth Amendment because you voluntarily relinquish it to the phone company...

    Huh? You voluntarily relinquish your financial information to your bank, but that doesn't mean the government can just take it without a warrant!

  • Gojira||

    Also, is it just me, or does that photo look like a generic science device from the fucking 60s? Is that the high-end of law enforcement tech these days?

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    You have to hook it up to a 6' tall cabinet that contains two giant magnetic reels.

  • robc||

    There is a 9th amendment right to be secure in your non-visible electromagnetic emmissions.

    /written solely for Tulpa

  • ||

    That means I violate Money Talk 1360's civil rights every morning when I turn the radio on.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    The difference between a broadcast and a cell phone call is like the difference between a newspaper and a letter.

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