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The FBI very rarely talks about the devices, and has even directed local law enforcement departments to notify them whenever media members make Freedom of Information Act requests about the use of Stingrays, in an attempt to keep their use secret.
It’s no secret that the FBI uses Stingrays—”cell-site simulator” devices which force all nearby cell phones to connect to it before rerouting traffic through a real cell phone tower—in order to track callers and suspect movements.
Any given time, on any given day, law enforcement could be scooping up your location data using a fake cell phone tower, and you would probably never know about it. In a just-surfaced video from October, however, the FBI has copped to using fake cell phone towers, known as “Stingrays.”
Stingrays work by allowing police to track the movement of a suspect, and are often used without a warrant, which was recently declared unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court.
So it was surprising to see FBI Director James Comey talk openly about Stingrays, and about asking local law enforcement to keep their mouths shut when using them. In fact, Comey said that the FBI is telling local law enforcement who use its equipment to stay mum about the whole thing.
“When we’re talking about using a device to find the location of a particular individual and where they might be using their cell phone, it’s not about intercepting their calls,” Comey said.
“It may be about finding what cell tower someone’s phone is pinging off of and with proper authority, we, the feds, and our local brothers and sisters have to be able to do that to investigate all kinds of things,” he added.
Comey’s comments are about par for the course for the director—lots of talk about “bad guys” and semantic arguments: “‘Bulk collection’ means something very different to me, and also ‘collection’ to me means something very different,” he said.
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