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New DHS policy guideline raises issue of privacy in criminal investigations, P.1

Law enforcement officers and agencies have a great deal of power when it comes to investigating suspected criminal activity. As we frequently point out, though, there are definite limits on investigators’ ability to search persons and property and to seize evidence.

Because the way investigators go about their work is continually changing due to changes in technology, clarifications in the law do occur from time to time, and law enforcement agencies may occasionally change their policies to ensure they are going about their work legally. Take, for example, the Department of Homeland Security’s recent accouchement that all law enforcement officers under the agency’s authority will now be required to secure a warrant prior to using devices that track down cell phones.  

The devices, sometimes called “Stingrays,” simulate a cell phone towers and allow the device holder to gather data from mobile phones connecting the device. Investigators have tried to keep the use of these devices as secret as possible over the years, and the previous practice was to deny use of the devices or leave out mention of using the devices in court or to the public.

Much of what is publicly known about the surveillance devices has been obtained through court documents and requests under the Freedom of Information Act. Some of the records that have been made public show that the devices have frequently been used without search warrants, which is certainly a concern from a privacy standpoint.

Under the new policy, investigators are not only required to obtain a signed warrant to use the devices, they must also delete all cell phone data that has been collected after an investigation is complete.

In our next post, we’ll continue looking at this topic.

Sources:

BuzzFeedNews, “Homeland Security Now Requires A Warrant Before Tracking Your Cell Phone,” Salvador Hernandez, Oct. 21, 2015.

Department of Justice, “Department of Justice Policy Guidance: Use of Cell-Site Simulator Technology,” Accessed Oct. 28, 2015.

American Civil Liberties Union, “Stingray Tracking Devices: Who's Got Them?,” Accessed Oct. 28, 2015.

Cornell University Law School, “Exigent Circumstances,” Accessed Oct. 28, 2015.

Scientific American, “What Is the Big Secret Surrounding Stingray Surveillance?,” Larry Greenmeier, June 25, 2015. 

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