Government Stingray May be Disrupting Your Mobile Coverage

The secretive Fed technology, that fakes call towers to spy on people, might be disrupting mobile coverage for others.

one nation under surveillance

I’ve posted before about the mysterious “Stingray” technology that intercepts the phones of selected targets, fooling it into thinking it is connecting to a legitimate phone tower. In fact, a prosecutor’s case was recently tossed because the police had used this technology, but the prosecutor did not want to acknowledge it in court. Our Federal rulers don’t want any acknowledgement of the use of Stingray on the record. This is a problem since the way evidence is gathered is not supposed to be secret at trial.

Now, it turns out that, in addition to the other legal and privacy issues, Stingray is victimizing people who are not even the targets of the surveillance. According to The Week,

As the ACLU notes, stingrays “also gather information about the phones of countless bystanders who happen to be nearby,” which means police could be keeping tabs on your location and other info, sans warrant.

Now, a newly released document indicates that the local reach of the devices may be interfering with cell service, too. Because of how the stingray functions, “its use has the potential to intermittently disrupt cellular service to a small fraction of Sprint’s wireless customers within its immediate vicinity,” wrote FBI Special Agent Michael A. Scimeca.

“If an emergency or important/urgent call (to a doctor, a loved one, etc.) is blocked or dropped by this technology,” says the ACLU’s Nate Wessler, “that’s a serious problem.”

Someone might argue that this disruption is insignificant compared to the importance of the police investigation. But that is impossible to argue in the abstract. Prosecutors and investigators are always going to believe that their investigations are more important than other people trying to communicate on their mobile phones at any given time. Furthermore, since their careers are furthered by closing cases, they have every personal reason to inflate the importance of the work they are doing.

Disrupting mobile coverage is effectively a form of commandeering someone’s property without notice or permission to do so. In other words, it is stealing.

Even if lawmakers want to permit the practice, they ought to write out statutes that guide the practice and limit it, rather than simply doing it without any lawful permission.