In 2013, when Edward Snowden revealed secret surveillance programs by the American government, the announcement shook the country. Yet, surprisingly, the majority of cellphone surveillance by the federal, state, and local law enforcement were long established before these revelations. As much as you think you have the right to privacy, and that all personal matters stay close to home, others may be listening.

 

Here are a few things you need to know:

 

The Stingray

 

The name Stingray has become quite interchangeable with international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) catchers. Each active cell phone owner has an IMSI number, located inside the SIM card.

 

The stingray is a specific IMSI catcher originally developed by the Harris Corporation, and privately sold to governmental parties. With this IMSI number, military and law enforcement have the ability to track your cell phone.

 

How Stingray Works

 

In order to thoroughly understand how a Stingray is used, it is important to first understand the basic way a cell phone functions. When a cell phone is active, it will search for the strongest signal on the network and connect to that tower. The mobile switch will determine which tower will carry the signal and assigns an available radio channel from the tower. The way the switch function depends on measuring the signal strength and connecting the mobile device to the most powerful signal.

 

Sometimes though, cell phones use multiple towers, also known as a handoff. The original tower that handles the cell phone will send a handoff request stating that the signal has dropped below a specific threshold. The cell site will make several inspections to confirm this is true, and then move to the next tower. An individual may be driving 70 miles and switching a few towers without ever knowing; at least, that’s the goal of the relevant mobile company.

 

When the cell phone company keeps or records the information of where the cell phone checks in, it is known as triangulation. This process gathers this data which can then be used to track the device. When a mobile device is turned on, and looks for the strongest signal, the search causes the phone to check in to every single cell tower in range to reach the most dominant signal. All those towers now have a “mark” or visual sight of the phone. The more towers, the more accurate the location. Although the tower with the strongest signal will be used, all the other towers still have your information.

 

In traditional cases, government and law enforcement cannot triangulate, because cell phone companies kept the data of the actual tower the cell phone used, until the IMSI catcher proliferated.

 

The IMSI catcher will ultimately emulate a typical tower, offering the strongest signal. It will then also continue to maintain the connection, allowing the police to finally track the location of the device.

 

As each mobile device has its own IMSI number, police officers can simply enter the digits into their device and follow the signal. IMSI catchers enable law enforcement to acquire location information of cell phones that would normally be inaccessible without a warrant. Yet, despite all the promises of law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, the devices are far more capable than simply locating a cell phone.

 

Illegal Prying

 

Most of the stingray mechanisms are not only used to locate people, but they may be used or eavesdropping on phone calls and spying on text messages. With modern technology, there is even the possibility of extracting certain documents, deleted messages, media files, contact information, and notes from a cell phone.

 

The most challenging area with IMSI catchers is that they are not only located in cell phones. They can be found in vehicles, on drones, and in other places.

 

One corporation, known as Meganet, announced a new form of IMSI catcher called the VME Dominator. The main features of the VME is the ability to intercept voice and text. It can even modify them. Calling and texting on behalf of someone else is just one of the many components of the Dominator.

 

The Law

 

Due to the secrecy of the Stingray and IMSI catchers, courts refused to directly address such concerns. However, this has recently changed. In the United States v. Lambis, it was made official that a search warrant was an obligation to deploy an IMSI catcher. This now makes it harder for others to use IMSI information to prove another guilty.

 

Case laws have produced varying results. Some may argue that the rights of the Fourth Amendment have a higher power over proof obtained by Sting Rays, and some courts may deem it appropriate.

 

The bottom line is that you may be a victim of such incidents, and it is important that you are aware of this. Despite IMSI catchers for being around much longer than we may think, the courts are still behind in such technological advances.

 

Knowing and understanding the secret use of Stingrays and IMSI catchers is the first step to fighting its injustice. Here at Piotrowski Law, we have the most dedicated criminal defense lawyers to help you with your criminal case. Contact us now.

 

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