Stingray Phone Tracker

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dont spy on me

The StingRay is an IMSI-catcher (International Mobile Subscriber Identity), a controversial cellular phone surveillance device, manufactured by the Harris Corporation. Initially developed for the military and intelligence community, the StingRay and similar Harris devices are in widespread use by local and state law enforcement agencies across the US. Stingray has also become a generic name to describe these kinds of devices.

The StingRay has with both passive (digital analyzer) and active (cell site simulator) capabilities. When operating in active mode, the device mimics a wireless carrier cell tower in order to force all nearby mobile phones and other cellular data devices to connect to it. The devices can be mounted on cars, airplanes, helicopters, and unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as carried by hand. They are primarily used for surveillance, but can also conduct denial of service attacks (radio jamming).

In active mode, the StingRay will force each compatible cellular device in a given area to disconnect from its service provider cell site (i.e., operated by Verizon, AT&T, etc.) and establish a new connection with the StingRay. In most cases, this is accomplished by having the StingRay broadcast a pilot signal that is either stronger than, or made to appear stronger than, the pilot signals being broadcast by legitimate cell sites operating in the area. A common function of all cellular communications protocols is to have the cellular device connect to the cell site offering the strongest signal. StingRays exploit this function as a means to force temporary connections with cellular devices within a limited area.

The devices are used for a variety of reasons. For example, if visual surveillance is being conducted on a group of protesters, a StingRay can be used to download the IMSI or equivalent identifier from each phone within the protest area. After identifying the phones, locating and tracking operations can be conducted, and service providers can be forced to turn over account information identifying the phone users. The use of the devices has been frequently funded by grants from the Department of Homeland Security. The LAPD used such a grant in 2006 to buy a stingray for ‘regional terrorism investigations.’ However, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF, a digital rights group), the ‘LAPD has been using it for just about any investigation imaginable.’

In addition to federal law enforcement, military and intelligence agencies, StingRays have in recent years been purchased by local and state law enforcement agencies. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 42 law enforcement agencies in 17 states own StingRay technology. In 2014, ‘Slate’ reported that at least 46 state and local police departments, from Sunrise, Florida, to Hennepin County, Minnesota, use cell-site simulators, with a price-tag of $16,000 to more than $125,000 for each unit. In 2015, it was reported that the Baltimore Police Department’s frequency in using the device was ‘inexplicably high.’ In some states, the devices are made available to local police departments by state surveillance units. The federal government funds most of the purchases with anti-terror grants. Critics have called the use of the devices by government agencies warrantless cell phone tracking, as they have frequently been used without informing the court system or obtaining a warrant. The EFF has called the devices ‘an unconstitutional, all-you-can-eat data buffet.’

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