A New York Times article today hits on the problems with police departments using Stingray devices to secretly track mobile phones. Stingray devices are shrouded in secrecy, and have been for years, due to the company requiring police departments to sign a confidentiality agreement about their use.

Let’s break that down:

  • A private company (Stingray)
  • is telling the public government (police)
  • what they can and can’t do.

What could go wrong?

The biggest concern people should have about this is that, by using these devices, police are circumventing the law with impunity. To conduct a search with something like a stingray, the police should be legally required to get a warrant from a judge. But they don’t. Why? Because getting a warrant would require telling the judge how this device works, and that would be a breach of the confidentiality agreement the police signed with the private company.

That means the police are free to use these devices with no oversight.

That means the public, judges, law makers, etc., have no idea what these devices actually do.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution is supposed to keep us free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The secret use of Stingray devices without a warrant is the farthest thing from reasonable.

If your’re interested in reading more, I’ve written before about the police’s use of Stingray devices herehere, and here.