Police across Illinois would need a warrant to use controversial cellphone trackers under a measure Democratic legislators are unveiling today, a little more than week after a judge ruled the Chicago Police Department must turn over records regarding its use of the secret tracking system, reports the Chicago Tribune. Cell site simulators, also known as “Stingrays,” are devices that mimic cellphone towers and can scan cellphones for call logs and text messages. Developed by the military to track targets, critics led by the American Civil Liberties Union say the equipment allows police to monitor civilians illegally because it provides access to data from phones within a wide vicinity, not just a particular suspect.
The city argued that disclosing information about its use of the technology could allow criminals to work around it and should be exempt from public disclosure. Cook County Judge Kathleen Kennedy rejected that argument and ordered the city to produce records she can inspects before deciding if any should be withheld. In addition to forcing police to obtain warrants before using the devices, the bill would require police to delete any data the devices pick up from phones used by those who aren’t the target of an investigation. Sen. Daniel Biss said the regulations would mirror many already in place at the federal level. If it’s good enough for the Department of Homeland Security, Biss said, it should be good enough for police in Illinois. “I think if you were to tell most people there is technology by which even if you’re not the target of a police investigation they could impersonate your cellphone company and get whatever information they want, they would be stunned,” he said.