back to article FBI on trial for warrantless Stingray mobile spying

In an Arizona court case, the FBI has been forced to defend its use of a phony cellphone tower dubbed Stingray that it's using to analyse mobile phone traffic and identify suspects. The Stingray system came to light in the case of Daniel David Rigmaiden, who stands accused of reaping millions of dollars from filing phony tax …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a joke

    The EFF and ACLU are pissin up a rope. There is nothing wrong with using available technology to catch cellphone transmissions and triangulate the location of said transmissions. If you don't want to be heard yacking on a cellphone then don't use a cellphone. There is no god given right to use a cellphone or be immune from people listening into electronic communication. If you're so dumb that you don't understand that all electronic communication is tracked, then it's your problem because you are ignorant.

    1. Michael 17

      Re: What a joke

      There may not be a god given right, but there is a constitutional one. Given god's odd sense of humor, I'd rather rely on a constitutional right, weak as that sometimes can be.

      1. BillG

        Re: What a joke

        Warrant? Obama don't need no stinkin' warrant!

        Only Nixon could go to China.

        Only Obama can trample civil rights.

        1. Euripides Pants

          Re: Only Obama can trample civil rights

          Nah, the Cheney Administration had a flair for that as well...

      2. Marshalltown
        Thumb Down


        I can argue pro and con, but I think the basic take away is that if you are a crook, and you want security, you should be handling it yourself. I like the concept of "outlaw." If you decide to live outside the law, why grant you constitutional rights? The 4th Amendment pretty specifically protects the home and parallel British law is the direct ancestor of the US 4th Amendment. There's little or no protection of vehicles in comparison as long as probable cause exists. Broadcasting your criminal activity over a cell phone is - ah - criminally stupid.

        I don't much like the general concept of what the Feebs did, but strictly speaking, they can argue that probable cause existed, that the "search" was effectively equivalent to using dogs to track a suspect, or a telescope to find a small target in a large landscape, or simply sitting in the brush along a game trail and listening. Since the sucker was using identity theft I would think it appropriate to let the victims that were audited by the IRS when they submitted "dual" returns. I'ld vote for grievous bodily harm.

        1. Dan Paul

          Re: Rights?? @ Marshalltown

          How are things in Iowa?

          Looks like you are one the "If you have nothing to hide why not let them in without the warrant" types.

          Funny thing that, same crap happened under Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, etc etc etc.

          Probable cause my left testicle...Who said anything about "Outlaws"? If listening to hundreds of individuals cell phone signals to catch one person is okay then why can't I eavesdrop on FBI communications? After all what's good for the Goose must be good for the Gander, right!?

          The matter at hand is one of ethics and principles. The FBI is supposed to uphold the law of this land and they (and every politician in this country) take an oath swearing on a Bible to "Protect and Defend the Constitution" of the United States.

          Use of the Military (and it's technology) against the People is also against the Constitution and can only be done in the case of "Martial Law" where our rights are suspended for our "own good". I believe that should also apply to rampant misuse of official powers by the President (National Security Memos) which has been happening since Korea.

          Try looking here under "Recent Legislative Events" to see the early setup of Martial Law over "We the People" coming soon to a town near you.

          The only thing we should fear is our own government.

          If as a representatitve of the US Government, you break any part of the Constitution, you have committed Treason, you are now a Felon and should be impeached, fired and/or hung.

          Since this has already happened, why should we lie down and let them continue? A VERY wise man once said "You will only realize the need for the Second Amendment when they come to take it away from you".

          1. Clunking Fist Bronze badge

            Re: Rights?? @ Marshalltown


            This US law professor explains why one should never talk to the police. It's a long watch, but rewarding.

    2. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Re: What a joke

      There is no god given right to use a cellphone or be immune from people listening into electronic communication

      Ah, the joy of spouting own opinion as alleged fact..

      Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12

      No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

      Note that this right is classed as inalienable, you may want to look that up.

      The US signed that too. Some countries have it even in their Federal Constitution:

      1. Everyone has the right to privacy in their private and family life and in their home, and in relation to their mail and telecommunications.

      2. Everyone has the right to be protected against the misuse of their personal data.

      (official translation)

      The consequence of the UDHR declaration is that undersigning nations are compelled to take that into their legislation one way or another. As we've seen over the last few years, law enforcement is trying to avoid Due Process to infringe on those rights and they are *seriously* getting in the way of Google and Facebook making a profit off your personal life, but for now you still have them.

      You may want to put some effort in keeping them.

      1. Marshalltown

        Re: What a joke

        Your opinion ignores that those inalienable rights aren't simply in effect between individuals and governments. If the right is truly "inalienable" then no individual has the "inalienable" right to violate another's rights either. Yet we repeatedly see criminals defending themselves with the excuse that THEIR rights were the ones violated. Criminals place themselves outside the law - their defense is that the law is for others - like you and I. They can violate your privacy, steal your identity, loot your bank accounts, but as long as they keep their behaviour "private," they should be treated as well as their victims? Think about a burglary, with or without violence. Consider the privacy lost by the victims when they have to call the police and have an evidence team work through the household. That privacy was also stolen by the thief.

        The problem is that historically, political activity has often been conflated by government agencies (treason, sedition, political opposition, and disagreement with politicians) with what might be termed interpersonal crime - mugging, burglary, identity theft, etc. Some political crimes are really serious while others are almost a matter of opinion. Interpersonal crime causes real harm. If the fool was stupid enough to broadcast his actions on a cell phone, too bad. If he were being pursued for using speech the government disapproved of, that would be a different story.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What a joke

          Here is a construct for you. So far it has worked for me, but I welcome sensible comments from anyone with improvements on this model.

          1 - you have a number of rights, but the bit that many like to ignore is that you also have obligations, amongst which is to follow the code of conduct of the society you live in. Generally, those obligations are laid down in laws for those that are (possibly wantonly) bad at picking up social clues and distinguishing right from wrong.

          2 - we grant those tasked with law enforcement a limited privilege to infringe on our rights for the explicit and specific purpose to catch offenders. Notice the words "limited" and "privilege" - there are obligations associated with those privileges, and this is what current law enforcement is enthusiastically trying to neuter. For a start, such privilege should only be exercised when there is cause. This means that those who are NOT suspected of a crime should not be affected, and sufficient cause has to be proven before your rights are affected. Fishing expeditions and logging all traffic is not acceptable, but they're trying to get there anyway.

          Secondly, any use of privilege must be justified, which means oversight and audit. Well hello, I wonder what they have to hide that they are so very, very keen to bury and oversight under "national security" BS.

      2. cortland

        Re: What a joke

        Treaties cannot be enforced in the US whose provisions violate guarantees or protections of our constitution. Even those protections are not usually invoked preemptively, as the EU's data protection scheme seems to be, but are activated by court decisions that establish precedent and allow subsequent complaints to be acted on.

        IMO. But I live here!

    3. Dan Paul

      Re: What a joke

      There is however something completely wrong with a complete and utter twat like you defending the continued erosion of our Constitutional rights.

      Anyone who has half a brain and needs to keep off the radar would already understand that they can only use disposable cell phones and keep the batteries out of them when not in use.

      However, this "Stingray" system listens in to ANYONES conversations without a warrant in direct contravention of all known case law on the subject of eavesdropping wiretapping or other forms of telephone surveilliance.

      Anyone who defends this methodology or uses it; is a treasonous little sot that needs to be thrown into the fiery pits of Hell to burn now and forever.

  2. Flip
    Thumb Up

    Cooler heads

    Dovetails nicely with the news I heard yesterday. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that police agencies here must obtain wiretap orders before asking telcos to hand over text messages of targeted individuals. Sounds like the courts in both countries are trying to catch up with technology before it gets too far out of hand.

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  4. Mephistro

    " honesty and a warrant are requirements to using a Stingray."

    And they thought obtaining warrants was difficult. Good look finding honesty in a Government's agency. ;-)

  5. Magani

    Misleading headline

    Here was I waiting for an article about an FBI agent war-driving in a Corvette.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Misleading headline

      or a submarine?

  6. Chris G Silver badge
    Big Brother


    The scary thing about this kind of technology is that these things are like cockroaches; if you see one there are dozens more that are unseen.

    I am sure that the FBI or any other agency anywhere will not volunteer information about more installations until required to do so by law.

    I sometimes think that Governments regard 1984 as a manual of required actions for gov's rather than a work of prophetic fiction.

    The UK doesn't even have a constitution, I would not be surprised if this technology isn't installed in a few bonafide cell towers at strategic points around the country.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Infestation

      er..the equipment doesn't have to be installed at cell phone sites. The widely used US Harris Stingray is an expensive "IMSI catcher" with similar devices used in UK by at least the Metropolitan Police Service, and as you quite rightly guess by many many other users...,

      It can be hand-held and just gather the hard identity of the couple of hundred people that you aim it at... e.g. at a hypothetical 'Save the chocolate Bunnies' demo in London - a wave of the Leeds-built UK Stinger equivalent and you have nothing less than the invariant seed evidence for everyone at the demo (and quite a few bystanders) to have a Person of Interest dossier opened on them by the Ministry of Truth.

      Cryptome and US EFF lawsuits have revealed the full pricelist and capabilities of the 'sensitive' Harris IMSI catcher family. In UK there is little official comment , but the Guardian mentioned in 2011 "Strictly classified under government protocol as "Listed X", it can emit a signal over an area of up to an estimated 10 sq km, forcing hundreds of mobile phones per minute to release their unique IMSI and IMEI identity codes"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Infestation

        appropriate use of force must be considered, says logical reasoning

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Infestation

      The UK doesn't even have a constitution, I would not be surprised if this technology isn't installed in a few bonafide cell towers at strategic points around the country.

      Why? AFAIK, under the UK Telecommunication Act, any telco must provide facilities for legal intercept. Provided they get a warrant, ye olde plod doesn't even have to leave his desk to get a data dump from a cell. No need for wandering around with expensive kit.

      As a telco you can do more. Once you have a number you're interested, you can send it a blank SMS. As SMS gateways between telcos are not privacy filtered, a telco gets the full monty back with the response, which includes cell tagging data. Anywhere in the world.

  7. FrankAlphaXII

    FISA no longer applicable?

    I guess the FBI has gotten to the point where FISA doesn't matter to them. I'm sure they're justifying this by saying that since its law enforcement and not counterintelligence that FISA doesn't apply, but the problem is that it does when it comes to interception of a signal originating in the United States.

    NSA/CSS can't do a damn thing legally without a warrant. Keep in mind that Intelligence Agenices by their very nature violate the law and they most likely still collect illegally, but its inadmissable as evidence.

    It just really makes me wonder how FBI is justifying this.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: FISA no longer applicable?

      It just really makes me wonder how FBI is justifying this.

      I suspect at some point someone will "discover" a tenuous link to funding terrorists, and then all bets are off..

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: FISA no longer applicable?

      "hey most likely still collect illegally, but its inadmissable as evidence"

      I'd like to meet a judge with the balls to recommend that the illegal gatherers face criminal charges,

      That'd ruffle a few feathers in Fed-ville.

  8. Unicornpiss Silver badge

    Damn right a warrant should be required for this!

    How is this any different than someone patching a pen (number) recorder and audio recorder into your land line, somewhere outside your premises? Different medium for data/voice transmission, but same idea. Or using a telescope to spy on you through the gaps in your blinds, or rifling through your home or shed with the justification that "your door was unlocked".

  9. Tikimon
    Big Brother

    Nobody. Can. Be. Trusted. With. ANYTHING.

    The FBI, Facebook, Google, Apple, your local council... They all are grabbing everything they can. They all offer greasy reassurances that they won't misuse the data. Lots of protections in place, you know! Trust us!

    And then this comes out, three YEARS after the fact. It's only one example, but they're all guilty.

    Our privacy MUST be defended, folks. The human tendency to overstep boundaries is too strong. Checks and balances in government exist because the framers knew this would happen and tried to prevent it. We have to stop these jerks from bypassing our rights.

  10. JaitcH

    The FBI is not on trial, check the docket ...

    nor are they using a 'Pen Register' which was also mentioned in passing.

    The Harris Stingray (See: ) is interesting - as you can see it uses frequency converters which implies it is hardly 'frequency agile'.

    It is also limited to cell handset technology - nothing about 'InterNet'. And, it appears, using a Satphone would be outside it's purview.

    What is good about this discussion is that we now know much more about their technology and, ergo, that of the UK Plod. It would appear that they are only 4-channel units, which could easily be overwhelmed in crowded/congested RF areas.

    Simpler still, reprogram the IMEI - download ZiPhone GUI OR subscribe to Silent Circle. The US Government does.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The FBI is not on trial, check the docket ...

      Somebody needs to retune/relearn their frequencies.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The FBI is not on trial, check the docket ...

      May the lord look down upon you with favor this Easter, my good man. Such good advice is worth a boon or two.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The FBI is not on trial, check the docket ...

      subscribe to Silent Circle

      Sadly not. It's irrelevant that they allegedly host their data outside the US, Silent Circle is a US registered company and thus subject to the USA PATRIOT Act and FISA..

  11. sisk

    Here's hoping

    I don't think the FBI has a prayer of winning this one. They're CLEARLY in violation of the 4th amendment, even if the last couple Presidents have largely ignored that part of the Constitution whenever they could get away with it.

    If this case were to make it to the Supreme Court it could, depending on the wording of the official verdict, finally put an end to all the warrantless wiretaps. The things are already illegal, we just need a judge to say so and force them to stop.

    *Waves to the friendly (or not) NSA agents who've been following all his recent rants*

  12. Ramazan

    The mentioned "Stingray" system still needs to connect to GSM/CDMA operators' backbones in one way or another, so this case should blame operators too, not FBI only.

    P.S. In Chechnya they used to kill federal agents first, BTW

  13. silent_count


    Doesn't breaking even trivial encryption violate the DCMA? For example, the encryption used to send data to and from the mobile phone towers, and that protecting any data stored on the phone.

    IANAL. I honestly don't know the answer but it seems they trot that line about breaking encryption out every time someone mods their console.

  14. BoldMan

    Stand by for action!

    So were they tapping the phone calls of Troy Tempest to Marina? I bet that was a bit of a one-sided conversation...

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