back to article Hey, cop! You need a warrant to stalk a phone with a Stingray – judge

A New York judge has this month told cops that they need to get a warrant before they can use a controversial Stingray phone-tracking gadget to hunt down suspects. Justice Martin Murphy of the Kings County Supreme Court said the New York Police Department (NYPD) could not use crucial evidence it gathered while trying to locate …

  1. Youngone Silver badge

    What about me then?

    I don't live in the US, but if the police there are using these devices then I would bet a whole dollar that my local constabulary are too.

    Despite that, I have never heard mention of them in the press here.

    I wonder why that is?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What about me then?

      I wonder why that is?

      There is an analogue built for the networks on this side of the pond, but it is hardly ever needed.

      RIPA allows them to request similar information without a warrant, with just a senior constable signing it off. From there on, the mobile operator has no choice but to cooperate, supply the information and keep their trap shut about it.

      The USA has gone down the stingray route exactly because the request to the mobile telco requires a warrant. The Stingray was originally envisioned as a way for FBI and Co to track someone without a warrant in violation of the 4th and relevant legislation as well as cost reduction device. USA telcos have well established tariffs to track you down to sub-10m upon requests. They are NOT cheap.

    2. MonkeyCee

      Re: What about me then?

      IANAL. My layman's understanding of the major right/left pondian difference is that in the USA you have the concept of "fruit of the poisoned tree", in that all acts leading up to acquiring the evidence must also meet the same standards, otherwise the evidence is tossed out.

      Hypothetically speaking if the police enter your property without the correct warrant (or other legal reason) and then discover your meth lab, then they won't be able to submit said meth lab into evidence, because there was not a legally correct route for them to have uncovered said evidence.

      Hence why an identity parade is possibly being tossed out, because the cops couldn't have found the accused without having used a warrant required technique without the correct type of warrant.

      In the UK you can have such evidence presented against you, unless the judge decides it's not kosher.

      The expectations to privacy are also interpreted differently. IIRC the UK (and NZ) view is that your phone contacting a cell tower is a public communication, and therefore not a violation of your privacy if the filth know about it. What was actually communicated is private, but the location (and various other bits of meta data) isn't.

      Obviously the US courts feel differently about this if a stingray is used, I'm curious if anyone knows their stance if a non-stingray method (cell tower triangulation etc) is used instead?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What about me then?

        if anyone knows their stance if a non-stingray method (cell tower triangulation etc) is used instead

        That requires a warrant. It is a capability MANDATED into US networks by the emergency number legislation. They have no issues with giving you a position of a phone down to sub-10m at any time.

        The pricing however is per-request. If you want to use the same functionality in real time to track a suspect you are going to rack up a 6 digit number bill in very short amount of time. They also have a fairly limited capacity to do so because the network centric method uses a lot of signalling capacity both over the backbone and over the air. That is the basis for the cost - it does not come cheap and it is limited.

        Stingray is primarily a cost reduction method with bypassing warrants being a second thought. Additionally, it may be a method to get around the capacity limitations. For this to be a factor in the equation the cops have to be tracking tens if not hundreds of thousands of targets on a given day and/or blanket tracking of all targets in a particular area with sub-10m resolution. They are vehemently claiming (including in front of congress) that they are not doing that. Looking at the technical side of things - I have my doubts regarding that claim.

        It also requires very close cooperation from the networks (probably not entirely voluntary) as the "fake" cell has to talk to the rest of the cellular network so it is does not look "fake". If it is not doing that, crypto, handovers in, handovers out, etc all go to hell - the same issues as with a femtocell.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What about me then?

          The UK doesn't follow the "fruit of the poisoned tree" philosophy in the same way. Sometimes I think it would be better if we did.

          I suppose the point is that if the police did something illegal then they may well be making other stuff up too. The "poison tree" is one way of keeping them honest. I can sympathise that the police breaking the law can be more than the "technicality" they might claim. The police are supposed to be a bunch of professionals so they shouldn't be screwing up le this.

          On the other hand letting a criminal off when they've clearly done something wrong..........

          1. Steve Hersey

            Re: What about me then?

            On the other hand letting a criminal off when they've clearly done something wrong..........

            The US Constitution operates on the principle that incorrectly releasing the guilty is preferable to incorrectly jailing the innocent. That's the theory, anyway.

            The point of letting the crim walk away if the evidence was improperly obtained is that if you allow the use of improper evidence, then the whole due-process principle just became unenforceable, and we're right back to forced confessions under torture, faked evidence, and all the other abuses the due-process clause was intended to prevent.

            It's a harsh punishment of the cops to toss out their case, true, but the alternative was held to be a worse price to pay.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What about me then?

      ...police there [US] are using these devices then I would bet a whole dollar that my local constabulary are too(*)...

      Ahem, I have a lot of these Stingrays [much cheaper: Openbts-desktop kit U210SWBX-GPSD0N1 etc], and have used them for a few years in a test environment

      I personally think that they are in use/abuse all over the place, the shop in Netherlands where I bought mine mentioned that they have sold hundreds, literally, hundreds of the buggers in the EU

      (*)local cops are far more likely to have invested in Rohde&Schwarz or DATONG than openBTS or Harris, but you never know? :disclaimer: I worked for R&S, excellent group; and I drank beer with many DATONG engineering, who wouldn't confirm or deny the Guardian story to even me. Great guys/gals.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If you allow the "fruit of the poisoned tree" as evidence

    Then you can do anything you like (legal or illegal) to obtain evidence.

    In other words, it's only illegal if you get caught. Great British justice :/

    The tories have introduced laws that act retrospectively to make illegal actions by the state legal.

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