Stingray phone tracker used to locate man living in country illegally

It’s being reported that agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI have used a Stingray to track an undocumented individual who was living in Michigan. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has described this usage of the technology as “novel,” prompting concerns that it could potentially be misused in a way that infringes upon civil liberties.

Stingray has become something of a catch-all terms for cell-site simulators, even though it started out as branding for a particular product developed by the Harris Corporation. It works by fooling phones into thinking it’s a standard cell tower, which causes the devices to share information related to the identity and location of its owner.

FBI and ICE operatives used a Stingray device to track the whereabouts of a man from El Salvador who was working at a restaurant in Michigan, according to a report from Engadget. The man had been deported twice in the past, and investigators obtained a warrant before utilizing the hardware, so there’s not much cause for complaint regarding the way this particular investigation played out. However, it does perhaps signal that the Stingray is set to become more widely used across all levels of law enforcement.

Stingrays were originally designed for the military, and then used by federal investigators to track terrorists. Last year, local law enforcement began adopting the technology, a move that was criticized in a report published by the U.S. House of Representatives.

At present, there’s a gray area when it comes to situations where it’s appropriate for law enforcement to utilize a Stingray device. In February 2017, a bill known as the Cell Location Privacy Act was submitted, with the intention of setting a requirement for a probable cause warrant before the hardware could be employed. However, the bill has not been passed as of the time of writing.