What are my rights under the Fourth Amendment?
Lawmakers in the state Assembly recently introduced legislation that would ban the use of cell site simulators or "stingrays" by law enforcement without a search warrant. These surveillance devices trick cell phones within range into connecting to the simulator instead of cell phone towers.
In short, stingrays allow the police to track individuals who are using electronic devices and capture communications content including phone calls, text messages and social media usage. The problem is that stingrays sweep up all devices within range, not just the communications of targeted individuals.
The legislation was prompted in part by an ACLU report in the summer of 2016 that found two local law New York law enforcement agencies invested more than half a million dollars in stingray devices which they rarely obtained warrants to use.
The bill would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before deploying stingrays and limit their use to emergency situations specified in the bill. The bill also contains provisions limiting the collection and storage of collected information.
A key cause for alarm is the fact that the majority of local and state stingray programs are funded by the federal government. However, agencies that acquire these devices are bound by non-disclosure agreements which can prevent the courts, prosecutors and defense attorneys from obtaining information about the use of stingrays during criminal proceedings.
In addition, the federal government and local law enforcement agencies share data collected in these programs through a system called the "information sharing environment (ISE). This essentially gives the federal government the ability to track the location and movement of innocent people without their knowledge or probable cause.
While the funding of stingray programs is said to be part of the federal government's anti-terrorism efforts, local law enforcement agencies are reportedly using the devices in routine criminal investigations without obtaining warrants. If the bill becomes law, it would effectively curb surveillance at both the state and federal levels.
In sum, critics of the stingray program argue that it violates the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. At this juncture, It is unclear whether the measure will be approved by the legislature or signed into law. In the meantime, if your are under a criminal investigation or facing charges, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help protect your rights.
The law offices of Ianniello Andersen, PC represents clients in Albany, Clifton Park, Glens Falls, Saratoga Springs, Troy and the entire Northeastern area. Call us today at (518) 350-7755.