The federal government's use of controversial stingray devices just got a little more stringent and transparent, says Wired. The Justice Department on Thursday announced a new policy requiring the FBI and other federal agents to obtain a search warrant before using stingrays, devices that simulate a cell phone tower in order to track the location of mobile phone users. The new policy forces prosecutors and investigators not only to obtain a warrant but also to disclose to judges that the specific technology they plan to use is a stingray, as opposed to another surveillance tool.
Law enforcement agencies throughout the US have been criticized for using the powerful technology without a warrant, and for deceiving judges about the nature of the technology they were using to track suspects—telling courts that they planned to use a pen-register or trap-and-trace device to obtain location data on a suspect, rather than a stingray, which is much more invasive. The new policy does not cover local and regional law enforcement. Civil liberties groups have long asserted that stingrays are too invasive because they can sweep up data about every phone in their vicinity, not just targeted phones.