A new device that allows for the lawful manipulation of cell phone signals is being utilized by local law enforcement agencies across the United States. The device, most commonly called a “Stingray”, is so secretive that agencies are required to sign non-disclosure agreements prior to purchasing and using it.
There are a number of companies that manufacture the device but market it under different names such as “The Hailstorm” and “The Kingfish” but the device itself looks and functions the same. The Stingray device manipulates the cell phone of a suspect or target by sending a signal to the phone identifying itself as the strongest cell tower in the area so that the phone will connect to it.
By tricking the target cell phone into connecting to the Stingray device it is able to pinpoint the location of that phone – and of course its owner – down to as little as three yards. It then extracts all of the numbers of both outgoing and incoming calls on that phone. According to executives of KIPP Intelligence, a Homeland Security firm, the device can potentially be the difference between law enforcement locating serious offenders like drug kingpins and terrorists and those individuals slipping “under the radar” like they often do.
Hal Kampfer, CEO of KIPP, compares the capability of the device to visually scanning a particular area, saying that using a Stingray essentially performs the electronic equivalent of a visual scan. If a particular cell phone number is associated with a known terrorist, for example, law enforcement “would certainly like to know if that terrorist is showing up in the vicinity of a major airport or someplace where there’s a major sporting event.”
The nature of the Stingray device and its intended use has become the source of some level of controversy with some critics stating that its use violates the 4th Amendment’s prohibition of overly broad general searches.