How we learned about Stingray

I’m sure most readers have heard of Stingray, a technology allowing law enforcement to ‘spoof’ or imitate cellphone towers.  Now Business Insider tells us who found out about this highly secretive technology.

Stingray works by mimicking cellphone towers. The authorities drive around with them sending out signals and all mobile devices in the vicinity are forced to connect to it. It has reportedly been used by numerous enforcement agencies for years, thousands of times. But the problem is that any organization signing on to use the device is forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

This means that if a group is asked to divulge details of Stingray in court, they must drop the case.

Given all this, it’s quickly become clear that the authorities never wanted people to know that Stingray existed. In fact, according to the latest episode of the WNYC radio show Note To Self, it took an obsessed man in prison to comb through thousands of documents to piece together what was going on.

There’s more at the link.

Seems to me that despite his criminal past, we owe Mr. Rigmaiden a collective vote of thanks for uncovering this latest overreach by Big Brother.  You do realize, don’t you, that if you live in anything larger than a medium-sized town or city, the odds approach certainty that your cellphone signals have been intercepted by the authorities in this way – without so much as a “By your leave”, without any evidence that you’re engaged in anything other than law-abiding activity, and without a warrant?

Big Brother has gotten far too big for his boots.  We’re obliged to people like Mr. Rigmaiden for reminding us of that unpleasant reality.  That helps us defend what freedom we have left – and even claw some back from the Nanny State, now and again.



  1. What is the point of using this technology for Law Enforcement, if by using it the court case must automatically be dropped if discovered?

  2. Under FCC Rules. only the cellular company licensed to provide service to a certain area may operate cellular transmitters in that area. The LEOs using Stingrays are breaking Federal law, not that I expect anything to be done about it.

  3. @smithgift

    they can listen in on the calls to hear them talking about where the evidence is, and then come up with some theory as to why they need to get a search warrant for that location, and just 'coincidently' discovering the evidence they need.

    google for "parallel construction", which is a way that the authorities deliberatly lie to the courts about how the investigation went. When they use an illegal way to get something, they make up a legal way that they could have gotten that same thing (sometimes manufacturing the paper trail from whole cloth, sometimes arranging 'coincidental' encounters to produce evidence), and then tell the court that they used the legal way instead of the illegal way.

  4. There have been times when I am talking on my cell phone and I hear a shortly delayed audio – feedback, sort of – of what I just said. The person on the other end does not hear this.

    This does not happen all the time.

    Perhaps I am being intercepted by something like stingray and re-transmitted? What with my very conservative and anti-big government blog, I'm certain I'm being watched and monitored by somebody in government.

  5. No, such things are not an indication that you are being intercepted.

    Interception by a stingray is undetectable unless you know exactly what cell towers are in your area and who else is using them. Cell phones switch from tower to tower automatically as you move and signal conditions change (connecting you to the 'best' tower all the time). Stingray is 'just another tower' as far as your phone is concerned, it's just that the stingray will make a copy of everything for the Feds. If the Cell companies were really as much in bed with the government as some of the critics believe, there would be no need for the Stingray, every cell tower would do this (and there are western governments around the world calling for this level of power and access)

    David Lang

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