It’s Confirmed. Police departments, and now the IRS, can track you using their new sophisticated “Stingray” gear. The device is portable and can be located nearby to act as a cell site to intercept calls and text messages to and from a specific cell phone, as well as calls and messages to and from other nearby cell phones. Various agencies using the Stingray include three letter agencies such as the FBI, NSA, DEA, and now the IRS.
All this spy activity begs the question: How can our government spy on us without justification and the proper permission from a court or judge? Initially, the FBI thought it could deploy the device in public places without obtaining warrants; however, that interpretation has since been reevaluated so that federal agents must now get warrants for most circumstances.
Numerous agencies across many states have managed to hide their purchases to avoid the public scrutiny. Exactly how the IRS is using the Stingray is not known at this time. The IRS won’t comment when asked. Speculation has it that the agency will be tracking suspects who may be hiding large amounts of money to avoid paying taxes. The problem arises when the IRS casts a wide net to spy on a particular suspect and intentionally or unintentionally infringes on our Fourth Amendment rights.
The Supreme Court has ruled that tracking people using GPS and/or using cellphone searches (that is, searching the files on your cell phone) without warrants is unconstitutional. However, the court has yet to look at tracking cell phones without a warrant.
According to CopBlock.org
“The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals however, ruled in 2013 that individuals have no reasonable expectation of privacy over their location data. The decision stated that location data is a “business record” created by private companies with the implicit consent of cellphone users and therefore are not subject to privacy protections.”
Various Circuit Courts have weighed in on the issues and have been overturned by other Circuit Courts when it comes to the practice of using a device like Stingray.
The Fourth Amendment (unreasonable search and seizure) comes into play here. It protects the privacy rights of the people without respect to whether the alleged ‘search’ constitutes a trespass against property rights. It also requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause.
It may be a while before the dust settles given the complexity of the issue. Meantime, be aware that any number you call or receive, or any text you send or receive may be intercepted by a federal agency in spite of the law. Whether or not the information can be used is still up for interpretation. The old excuse, that you have nothing to hide, is not the issue. It’s an infringement of your right and my right to not be subjected to unreasonable search and seizure that’s at stake.