The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is currently suing two U.S. Homeland Security agencies due to stingray controversy. Not to be confused with the sea creatures, the stingrays in question are a type of surveillance equipment – equipment that might very well be recording your information.
Stingrays are used to track cell-phones, collecting information on location, calls and even text messages. As you might suspect, this can come in very handy with investigations, but stingrays don’t just collect data from criminals. In fact, a stingray can pick up information from every cell-phone within their radius.
Seems sketchy, right? Just wait, it gets worse; we actually don’t know all that much about how stingrays operate. We do know the basics – stingrays mimic cell phone towers in order to trick phones into connecting to their network – but that’s about it. This is on purpose: stingrays are sold directly to government agencies, which range from police departments to ICE, and come with strict non-disclosure agreements.
We still don’t know the full extent of what these devices can do, or what agencies are doing with them.
To shine a light on this problem, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act to collect information from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Unfortunately, two years have passed since this initial action and both agencies have continued to refuse access to documentation.
Which is why the ACLU is now suing both organizations.
The ACLU is hoping to find information on when/where the stingrays are being used across the United States, as well as how employees are primed to utilize the machines. It’s possible that everything is above board, but without at least some transparency, there’s a real risk that this equipment could be used to violate the rights of US citizens.
As of November 2018, the ACLU had identified the use of stingray technology in 27 states by 75 different U.S. agencies; it’s a number that is likely to continue to grow. In order to fully hold these agencies accountable for their use of stingrays, we first need to have a clear understanding of the technology and practices surrounding them.