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Police Need a Warrant to Use a Stingray Location Tracking Device


The law has caught up to technology when it comes to cell phones, and our constitutional rights to privacy in the data and information contained in our cell phones. When law enforcement stops us, they cannot search cell phones, unless they have a legally recognized exception, the same way that they would need to search our homes or our cars.

In fact, Florida just enacted a ban on driving and texting, which allows drivers caught texting while driving to be pulled over. However, the law does specifically say that officers cannot use the law as an excuse to obtain and search through someone’s phone (at least not without a warrant).

Stingray Devices

There has, however, been much legal debate over police use of what is known as a stingray device. These are devices used by law enforcement that emulate cell phone towers. Because of this, cell phones will connect to the devices, and transmit information through them. The devices actually “convince” cell phones to connect to them, instead of any nearby cell phone tower. The cell phone owner, of course, has no idea what is happening behind the scenes, nor any knowledge that his or her location is being tracked.

Law enforcement agencies use these devices because just like cell towers do, stingray devices can track a user’s location and can do so with even higher preciseness than actual cell phone towers.

One study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that the 24 states were using such devices.

The Debate Over Warrants

Many prosecutors argue that information obtained using a stingray device should not require police to get a warrant. They argue that since the devices do not record or access any of the user’s conversations, data, or the personal information on someone’s phone, that no warrant should be needed. It would be like flying a helicopter over someone who is in plain and public view, and writing down where the person is going. Police have never needed a warrant to do that.

However, many courts are finding that people do have a right to privacy in their location, at least in how it is being logged or tracked by their cell phone signals. In fact, the Department of Justice has taken the position that using these devices should require a warrant. So many courts have said that using a stingray requires a warrant that the matter is almost considered settled, although if the government disagrees, it could take the matter to the Supreme Court.

Also drawing concern was the fact that many departments were not even disclosing to courts that they were using the devices, when seeking permission to use the stingray device. As such, courts were granting permission to use devices they were not being told were in use, nor were judges usually aware of what a stingray device even is.

If you are arrested or charged with a crime, know your rights. Contact the Miami criminal attorneys at Velasquez & Associates P.A. today with any questions you may have.




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