According to BuzzFeed NewsDemocratic Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Ted Lieu will introduce legislation later today to restrict police use of International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) sensors. More commonly called Stingrays, police frequently use IMSI sensors and cell site simulators to collect information on suspects and intercept calls, SMS messages, and other forms of communication. Law enforcement agencies in the United States currently do not need a warrant to use the technology. The Cell-Site Simulator Act of 2021 seeks to change that.
IMSI sensors mimic cell towers to trick cell phones into connecting with them. Once signed in, they can collect the data that a device sends, including its location and the subscriber’s identity key. Cell site simulators pose a twofold problem.
The first is that they are blunt surveillance instruments. When used in a populated area, IMSI sensors can collect data from spectators. The second is that they can also pose a risk to public safety. The reason is that although IMSI sensors act like a cell phone tower, they don’t work as one and they can’t forward calls to a public wireless network. They can therefore prevent a phone from connecting to 9-1-1. Despite the dangers they represent, their use is widespread. In 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union Found at least 75 agencies in 27 states and the District of Columbia had IMSI sensors.
In trying to address these concerns, the proposed legislation would ensure that law enforcement agencies would have to plead before a judge the reasons why they should be allowed to use the technology. They should also explain why other monitoring methods would not be as effective. In addition, it aims to ensure that these agencies delete all data they collect from data that is not on a mandate.
While the bill apparently does not place a time limit on the use of IMSI sensors, it does push agencies to use the devices for as short a time as possible. It also details the exceptions where police could use warrantless technology. For example, it would leave the door open for law enforcement to use the devices in contexts such as bomb threats where an IMSI sensor can prevent a detonation from a distance.
“Our bipartisan bill ends the secrecy and uncertainty surrounding stingrays and other cell site simulators and replaces it with clear and transparent rules on when the government can use these invasive surveillance devices,” the senator said. Ron Wyden. BuzzFeed News.
The bill has the support of some Republicans. Senator Steve Daines of Montana and Representative Tom McClintock of California are co-sponsoring the bill. Organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center have also endorsed the bill.
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through any of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.