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New York Court Says Police Must Get Warrant to Use Stingrays

Moving forward, New York law enforcement agencies will need to go before a judge and obtain an eavesdropping warrant if they wish to use stingrays to track suspects’ cellphones. Stingrays spoof cell towers and fool cell phones into connecting with them. Police use them in cars or airplanes scanning entire neighborhoods seeking the phone of a single suspect. The issue is that the stingrays are imprecise and sweep up location, call, and messaging data of every cell phone in the vicinity. “The use of a cell-site simulator intrudes upon an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy, acting as an instrument of eavesdropping, and requires a separate warrant supported by probable cause,” wrote the Brooklyn judge overseeing the case. The ruling mirrors one made in Washington, D.C. earlier this year. Privacy advocates around the country are pushing back against the use of stingrays. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, the NYPD used stingrays more than 1,000 times between 2008 and 2015, though generally only for the most serious offenses. The Brooklyn ruling will set the tone for cases involving the use of stingrays tried in New York.

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