Hours before a scheduled meeting to surrender records to the American Civil Liberties Union about the use of controversial “stingray” cellphone tracking devices, Sarasota, Florida, police canceled the meeting, saying the U.S. Marshals had seized the records and they were no longer in police possession. Calling the move “blatant violations of open government laws,” in the words of staff attorney Nathan Freed Wessler, the ACLU promptly sued, protesting the handoff of sensitive documents to the feds and seeking their return.
Also known as “IMSIcatchers,” stingray devices simulate cellphone towers and trick cellphones into connecting, revealing their location. They are frequently used by federal and local officials under old-fashioned “trap and trace” warrants which conceal the intrusive nature of the modern technology.
Law enforcement officials are often cagey about the technology, both in terms of its capabilities, and also the loose legal standards under which it is used.