Bill Regulating Illinois Cell Site Simulators

Naperville criminal defense attorneys, cell site simulatorsIllinois police departments’ use of cell site simulators, known as Stingrays, is raising concerns about privacy and has inspired recent legislation in the Illinois legislature to regulate the use of such devices. Cell site simulators are used by the police to track mobile phone locations; however, they collect data from all phones in an area, not only from the particular phone the police are targeting. This has raised serious privacy concerns, and a bill is working its way through the Senate and House to restrict the use of Stingrays.

Cell Site Simulators

A cell site simulator is a suitcase-sized device used to track and locate cell phones. It works like a cell tower to capture data for cell phones in a particular neighborhood. Problematically, however, it is very imprecise and also receives data from hundreds or thousands of other, non-target phones in the area where the Stingray is being used.

Supporters of the use of Stingrays in police work cite instances where cell site simulator technology is useful. For example, it was used to locate a six-year-old girl being held hostage in Arizona. New York City police have made widespread use of Stingrays since 2008, using them in over 1,000 situations.

Baltimore police have used Stingrays about 4,300 times since 2007. Yet last month a Baltimore judge dismissed important evidence in a murder case because it was obtained by using a cell site simulator.

Twelve states have legislation addressing the use of cell site simulators by law enforcement agencies.

The Bill

Senate Bill 2343, known as the Citizen Privacy Protection Act, would regulate the use of Stingrays by Illinois police departments. The bill would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant to use one. The warrant would detail the manner of using the Stingray, and specify that it may not be used other than to track the location of or identify a communications device.

The bill also includes requirements regarding the deletion of data. It would require law enforcement to delete the data from cell phones not subject to investigation as soon as reasonably practicable, and no later than every 24 hours. If the Stingray was used to identify an unknown cell phone, however, all other data would be required to be deleted within 72 hours of identifying the unknown device. Law enforcement would be permitted to keep data from non-target phones for a longer period if they obtain a court order showing good cause.

Further, the bill would prohibit law enforcement from accessing data from non-target devices for any investigation not authorized by the original court order. Additionally, if the court found that a law enforcement agency used the cell site simulator in violation of the law, any evidence gathered therefrom would be inadmissible in any judicial or administrative proceeding.

The bill has passed the Senate with a near-unanimous vote, and is currently in House committees.

If you suspect that you are the subject of a police investigation, you need to obtain an attorney’s advice as soon as possible. Please contact the knowledgeable Naperville criminal defense attorneys at Law Office of Glenn M. Sowa, LLC to schedule a free initial consultation.