Well folks, the conspiracy theorists were right again. A new development by the Harris Corporation has pushed the age of surveillance up a few notches. Only being able to track a phone’s location is a thing of the past; these new developments mean that law enforcement can get access to almost all the information they want.
Dubbed the Stringray, this device acts as a mobile cell tower so when your phone comes in range it connects automatically. Usually placed in a vehicle, law enforcement officers can then drive around and ensnare all the phones they wish. While this new technology is useful for stopping crimes, it opens up a world of privacy violations.
The Stingrays Capabilities
Opinions on ethics aside, this is a pretty amazing piece of surveillance equipment. It forces your phone to connect by broadcasting a signal that is stronger than the one it would otherwise connect too. Once your phone is connected, anything that is sent over the network is vulnerable. This includes your location, calls, and anything you do online. Your identification information for your phone is also compromised.
There are some phones and apps that protect you from this phone surveillance, but either one is going to come with a drop in usability. On the other hand, the Stingray can also jam your access to cell towers. Using radio waves to cause interference for all phones in the area, and there is not much you can do to prevent that.
When not actively collecting your data or jamming, the Stingray is used map the range and location of cell towers. This allows law enforcement to have a better understanding of location information sent to them from cell companies. This information can change wildly due to weather conditions, so it’s usually only used in specific cases.
Use by Law Enforcement
Unfortunately this technology is in use, no matter what state you live in. In some cases it’s only by state police and some local police, or maybe even both. It has been used a few times in response to acts and threats of terrorism. Secrecy has been a big on this technology, and it wasn’t until 2014 that the state of Florida revealed they have been using it since 2010 in over 200 surveillance cases.
The reason for the secrecy was to avoid the need for warrants, but luckily the secret is out and courts are ruling in favor of them. Virginia and California both require a warrant before beginning a surveillance operation. Other states don’t require one, but hopefully that will change.
The Stingray is Out
This technology has made its way into mainstream law enforcement use, and it is not going to go away. For those concerned about your privacy the best thing you can do is message your local representatives and express your concern. The Stingray will never disappear, but it is possible to get it regulated and require warrants for its use.
If you are extra paranoid you can look into Crypto or other high security phones. There are apps meant to fight against the piece of surveillance equipment and other monitoring software for cell phones, but the best they seem to do is alert you if your connected tower abruptly changes.