Fitz: “What’s up, hotshot?”
McNulty: “I got a technical question. Remember those analog units we used to use to pull cell numbers out of the air? The C.F. something-something”
Fitz: “Yeah, Cell Frequency Identification Device”.
McNulty: “The triggerfish, yeah”.
Fitz: “That one, it could flag a number. Right, but the old analog machines? We used to have to follow the guy around stay close while he used the phone New digitals bing, we just pull the number right off the cell towers”.
McNulty: “So, you got any down out at Woodlawn that daddy can borrow?”
Fitz: “What about yours? – What? City has three of ’em, I remember right.
Homeland security grant sent ’em to you every big county department in the state”
McNulty: “No fucking way. Thanks” (the Wire season 3 episode 11, 2004).
Well, so there we have it, the U.S. Security Organization that are working tirelessly to protect and arrest criminals. On the way to do so, there are questions being made and questionable approaches made by the Security Agencies as they are using technology not to attain information on their possible suspects, but at the same time going into the privacy of innocent civilians. In this way by monitoring areas where well-known criminals are staying and taking information on bystanders and such; these acts can violate their trust in the security agencies as they are using this level of intelligence to attain the suspects. This can also be seen as a violation of the Fourth Amendment as they have rights who protect innocent civilian’s privacy. At the same time, the security agencies need technics to able to get intelligence on their suspects. This is the real-life The Wire and here is what I collected for the recently dropped White House report on the matter.
“[P]eople have a reasonable expectation that their cell phones will not be used as real-time tracking devices by law enforcement, and – recognizing that the Fourth Amendment protects people and not simply areas – that people have an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in real-time cell phone location information. Thus, we hold that the use of a cell site simulator requires a valid search warrant, or an order satisfying the constitutional requisites of a warrant, unless an established exception to the warrant requirement applies” (U.S. Committee, 2016, P: 30).
“The Department of Justice has 310 cell-site simulation devices and spent more than $71 million in fiscal years 2010-14 on cell-site simulation technology” (…) “The Department of Homeland Security has 124 cell-site simulation devices and spent more than $24 million in fiscal years 2010-14 on cell-site simulation technology” (U.S. Committee, 2016 P:5).
“Cell-site simulators are devices that effectively transform a cell phone into a real time tracking device. A cell-site simulator—also known as an “IMSI catcher”—is a device that mimics a cell phone tower. These devices are commonly referred to as “Stingrays,” which is both a generic name and also refers to a specific type of IMSI catcher that is manufactured by the Harris Corporation. When the device is activated, cell phones in the surrounding area connect to the device in a similar way that the cell phones would connect to a cell tower. Once a phone connects to the cell-site simulator, the device is capable of obtaining specific identifying information for the phone, including information that enables law enforcement to determine the location of the phone and, more importantly, its user” (U.S. Committee, 2016 P: 7).
“From April to August 2015, Committee staff met with the component agencies and officials from DOJ and DHS leadership; from those meetings, two things became clear: (1) use of these devices was widespread; and (2) there was a lack of uniformity across the agencies regarding what court authority was required to deploy cell-site simulation technology under different operating scenarios” (U.S. Committee, 2016 P: 8).
No Warrant before the surveillance:
“The Committee obtained information from federal, state, and local law enforcement that shows the majority of situations where a cell-site simulator is deployed involve the search for a specific, known cell phone. In this scenario, law enforcement first obtains the target cell phone’s number through traditional investigative methods. Once the target cell phone number is ascertained, law enforcement generally obtains the IMSI number that is associated with that cell phone number from the cellular service provider. A warrant is generally not a prerequisite to requesting the IMSI number from the service provider; in many instances, law enforcement obtains the IMSI number by issuing an administrative subpoena to a cell phone service provider” (U.S. Committee, 2016, P: 11).
Bystanders caught monitored to find the criminal phone:
“Whenever a cell-site simulator is deployed, there are collateral consequences for the non-target phones in the area. While searching for the target phone, the simulator will also make contact with other, non-target cell phones that happen to be within range of the simulator device, even if those phones’ owners are innocent bystanders who are not suspected of any criminal wrongdoing. The simulator identifies and collects these non-target phones’ unique identifiers as well. When searching for a specific IMSI number, the device identifies and drops contact with the non-targeted phones within a few seconds” (U.S. Committee, 2016, P: 12).
Difference between home and in public:
“During the course of the Committee’s investigation, it became clear the FBI was drawing a distinction between deploying cell-site simulators on targets in public places and deploying the devices to collect information when a person was in a private space, such as a home. If the device were to be deployed to detect a person when they were believed to be in their home, the FBI would obtain a warrant. When an individual was believed to be on a street or some other public space, however, the FBI relied upon an order under the Pen Register Statute” (U.S. Committee, 2016, P: 21).
IRS use of Cell phone surveillance:
“For each of the 37 investigations that the IRS reported using a cell-site simulator, the agency reported that it worked with an Assistant United States Attorney or State Prosecutor, and obtained “an order or a warrant” based on a finding of probable cause in 36 instances. On one occasion out of the 37, the IRS obtained authorization to deploy a cell-site simulator by obtaining an order pursuant to the Pen Register Statute. Ten of the federal cases resulted in indictments. Indictments were obtained in every instance where the IRS assisted a state or local police department’s investigation” (U.S. Committee, 2016, P: 25).
Use of the Technology in ill-intent:
“Cell-site simulator use inside the United States raises far-reaching issues concerning the use, extent, and legality of government surveillance authority. While the Committee’s investigation and hearing focused on law enforcement’s use of these devices, non-law enforcement and/or foreign government use of cell-site simulation technology also raises serious concerns” (…) “Law enforcement agencies are not the only groups who may use cell-site simulation technology. It is possible, if not likely, bad actors will use these devices to further their aims. Criminals and spies, however, will not be adopting the DOJ and DHS policies and procedures or any other ethics of surveillance. They will not be self-limiting in their use of these devices so as to not capture the content of others’ conversations. Criminals could use these devices to track potential victims or even members of law enforcement. One can imagine scenarios where criminals or foreign agents use this type of technology to intercept text messages and voice calls of law enforcement, corporate CEOs, or elected officials” (U.S. Committee, 2016, P: 33).
“In circumstances involving dramatic technological change, the best solution to privacy concerns may be legislative. A legislative body is well situated to gauge changing public attitudes, to draw detailed lines, and to balance privacy and public safety in a comprehensive way” (U.S. Committee, 2016, P: 35)
With this in mind, the reality is that sometimes the U.S. Police Officers and Security Agencies are following innocent civilians in the hunt of criminals. These methods are also done without warrants and therefore done on free-will of the security agencies, which by all means are a violations of privacy of civilians, where the courts haven’t even been noted on the arrangement and the investigations that been done.
This should be scrutinized and should not be put under the rug, as this are common thread and done by government security organization without permission or where they didn’t follow instruction per request of the courts. Therefore the validation of their intelligence could be put under question as they we’re also taking in civilians who wasn’t doing any ill-intent.
U.S. Committee Staff Report – ‘Law Enforcement Use of Cell-Site Simulation Technologies:
Privacy Concerns and Recommendations’ (19.12.2016) written by Hon. Jason Chaffetz & Hon. Elijah E. Cummings.