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State Lawmakers Want To Curtail The Use Of Phone Trackers By Police

By aaroncynic in News on May 9, 2016 7:14PM

Legislation is advancing in Spingfield that would curtail the use of phone trackers by police in Illinois.

Last week, a bill which would set rules for the use of cell-site simulators—which are used to locate and track cell phones as well as scoop up large quantities of data from phones in the area where the technology is being used—cleared the House Judiciary's Criminal Committee. The Illinois ACLU called the use of such devices, also known as Stingrays, a “virtual patdown of your phone without knowing the patdown occurred.” A companion bill passed the Senate last month.

Dubbed the “Citizen Privacy Protection Act,” the legislation would require law enforcement wishing to employ the technology to get a court order. The court order would need to detail the use and manner of deployment of the device, and specify that data that was not targeted in the court order, and require users to delete any data they collected that they weren't targeting within 24 or 72 hours, depending on the device they collected it from. Police would be prohibited from using data to investigate individuals not included in search warrants.

Stingrays have very serious privacy implications, according to Freddy Martinez, of Lucy Parson Labs, a collaboration of data scientists and transparency activists , who has sued the Chicago Police Department for records related to the use of Stingrays.

“Stingrays collect the information of everybody in a region, so a warrant to collect your phone information still collects mine if I'm nearby,” Martinez said in a statement to Chicagoist. “That's deeply troubling.”

State representative Ann Williams, who sponsored the House bill, told the AP that she wants state law enforcement agencies to comply with the constitution when it comes to using technology to monitor citizens.

Neither the Illinois State Police nor the Chicago Police Department have not taken positions on the legislation, though CPD has been fighting several lawsuits to keep their use of the devices under wraps, according to the AP. Activists however, have long accused Chicago police of using Stingrays to monitor people at demonstrations, and oversight has been almost nonexistent.

“This technology has been used for a decade with no judicial oversight and without warrants,” Martinez said. “We know that Chicago Police bought this equipment using money seized as part of the war on drugs, and it is a fact that the War on Drugs disproportionally harms black and brown communities.”

At least 12 other states have passed legislation addressing the use of cell-site simulators. Martinez called the Illinois bill a “significant step to get judicial oversight into deployments” that would help citizens and legislators better understand how the police use stingrays.