In today’s news: Government policy on surveillance has taken a new turn as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced that there are some situations where they do not need a warrant to use cell site simulators – small devices that can identify mobile phone signals and place their general location.
These cite simulators, known as stingrays, effectively pretend to be a phone tower, which get phones to communicate with it. Once this has happened, it can then track the phones interacting with it. Spokespeople have been quick to remind the public that the content of communications isn’t collected using this technology.
Users of stingrays previously had to get a warrant – and often they still will – however this announcement has granted exceptions in situations where it’s impractical to get one. The users must still get court approval however. DHS officials told Congress on Wednesday that they won’t get a warrant to use secret cell-phone scanning technology in cases where agents are protecting the president.
The American Civil Liberties Union has the policy is “riddled with loopholes”. According to Singh Giuliani, a legislative counsel with the group, “the biggest problem is that it doesn’t always require the government to get a warrant, or delete the data of innocent bystanders swept up in the electronic dragnet”.
As cybersecurity in the US is a massive deal right now, with the OPM breach and new cybersecurity agreements being made with China, we’ll need to watch how policy around it shifts over the coming weeks and months.