A House Oversight and Government Reform Committee report released Monday reveals that U.S. law enforcement agencies spent nearly $100 million spying on Americans’ cell phone activity in recent years.
While Americans have long known about federal/local sharing of cell phone surveillance tech called Stingray, agencies have been stingy with details about just how often the technology is used and for what purposes.
The Monday committee report offers a little context about the scale of Stingray use, revealing that the Justice Department spent $71 million on its 310 Stingray devices between 2010 and 2014. The Department of Homeland Security, meanwhile, has 124 of the devices on which it spent $24 million for the same period. Additionally, DHS handed around $1.8 million to state and local departments for Stingray-related activities.
Only last year, after a flurry of reports about potential Constitution violations stemming from warrantless cellphone tracking via Stingray, did the Justice Department and DHS implement formal policies for how and when the technology should be used.
Many state and local agencies, however, are still using the devices without obtaining warrants, the lawmakers observed in their report.
“Absent proper oversight and safeguards, the domestic use of (Stingrays) may well infringe upon the constitutional rights of citizens to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures,” House lawmkers said.
The House Committee is urging lawmakers to come to agreement over legislation that would “require, with limited exceptions, issuance of a probable cause based warrant prior to law enforcement’s use of these devices” for all agencies.
“Congress should pass legislation to establish a clear, nationwide framework for when and how geolocation information can be accessed and used,” they said.
In addition, lawmakers are asking law enforcement agencies to be more “candid” about their use of cell phone tracking technology.