In first, U.S. judge throws out cell
phone 'stingray' evidence
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[July 13, 2016]
By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) - For the first time, a
federal judge has suppressed evidence obtained without a warrant by U.S.
law enforcement using a stingray, a surveillance device that can trick
suspects' cell phones into revealing their locations.
U.S. District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan on Tuesday ruled that
defendant Raymond Lambis' rights were violated when the U.S. Drug
Enforcement Administration used such a device without a warrant to find
his Washington Heights apartment.
The DEA had used a stingray to identify Lambis' apartment as the most
likely location of a cell phone identified during a drug-trafficking
probe. Pauley said doing so constituted an unreasonable search.
"Absent a search warrant, the government may not turn a citizen's cell
phone into a tracking device," Pauley wrote.
The ruling marked the first time a federal judge had suppressed evidence
obtained using a stingray, according to the American Civil Liberties
Union, which like other privacy advocacy groups has criticized law
enforcement's use of such devices.
"This opinion strongly reinforces the strength of our constitutional
privacy rights in the digital age," ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler
said in a statement.
It was unclear whether prosecutors would seek to appeal. A spokeswoman
for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office was prosecuting
the case, declined to comment.
Stingrays, also known as "cell site simulators," mimic cell phone towers
in order to force cell phones in the area to transmit "pings" back to
the devices, enabling law enforcement to track a suspect's phone and
pinpoint its location.
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Critics of the technology call it invasive and say it has been
regularly used in secret to catch suspect in violation of their
rights under the U.S. Constitution.
The ACLU has counted 66 agencies in 24 states and the District of
Columbia that own stingrays but said that figure underrepresents the
actual number of devices in use given what it called secrecy
surrounding their purchases.
A Maryland appeals court in March became what the ACLU said was the
first state appellate court to order evidence obtained using a
stingray suppressed. Pauley's decision was the first at the federal
The U.S. Justice Department in September changed its internal
policies and required government agents to obtain a warrant before
using a cell site simulator.
Bernard Seidler, Lambis' lawyer, noted that occurred a week after
his client was charged. He said it was unclear if the drug case
against Lambis would now be dismissed.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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