FBI keeps police quiet on use of cell phone trackers

The FBI is keeping under wraps the use of a device that lets police officers zero in on the location of cell phones--and thereby persons of interest or suspects, according to a document released through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Before law enforcement agencies can use the device, called a Stingray, they must sign a nondisclosure agreement with the FBI, according to a Sept. 22 report by MuckRock. The document, a 2012 agreement between the Tacoma, Wash., Police Department and the FBI, also states that Stingray maker Harris Corp. alerted the FBI to the department's interest in a device and that completing the NDA is required by the FCC.

Stingrays act as cell site simulators, often called ISMI catchers, fooling a mobile phone into connecting to it as if it were a cell tower, enabling police officers to pinpoint its location. The FBI has been using Stingrays since at least 1995, according to documents from the Electronic Privacy Information Center. For more, see this FierceMobileGovernment story.

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