The almost universal use of cell phones provides a large amount of trackable data that has proven to be a boon to law enforcement agencies. Although much of the recent media attention has focused on the misuse of data by agencies like the NSA, local law enforcement agencies stand to benefit from adopting some of these tools.
One such device that has long been used by federal law enforcement agencies is commonly known as a StingRay tracking device. Officially referred to as a cell site simulator, this device mimics a cell phone tower and tricks cell phones into transmitting their identifying information and location. It can also capture emails, calls, and texts.
Being able to track individuals by their cell phones provides a huge advantage to law enforcement agencies who are trying to track down suspects or find missing people. A number of state and local police agencies throughout the country have started taking advantage of this technology. One prominent law enforcement agency known to use StingRays is the New York State Police.
To keep this technology out of the hands of terrorists and criminals, the FBI has dissuaded its manufacturers from releasing details on how the technology works. Currently, users must sign a non-disclosure form when they adopt this tool.
In some cases, this has complicated the efforts of local law enforcement agencies to obtain the money to buy StingRays. While some agencies have been able to purchase them using Homeland Security grants, others have had to ask local taxpayers to fund StingRay purchases. Some of these agencies have run into difficulty getting approval for their purchase, since they are unable to provide any detail on what the money will be used for.
Although there is scant detail on specific cases solved with this technology, its increasing adaptation by law enforcement agencies speaks to the power of StingRays to help law enforcement solve crimes.