How do police hack your phone without a warrant?

As local police departments militarize their weapons, it was only a matter of time before they upgraded their surveillance systems as well. Thanks to a small portable device known as a “Stingray” – about the size of a box of doughnuts- police are able to vacuum up loads of cell phone data from regular citizens without bothering to get a warrant– just like their federal counterparts, who justify the use based on national security concerns.

If you have questions about the Fourth Amendment, or government searches, contact the Tulsa personal injury attorneys at Bryan & Terrill Law, 918-935-2777.

For local police, there are no national security concerns to justify the use; but its certainly more convenient than complying with the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment.

The Stingray works by mimicking a cell phone tower, which tricks your cell phone into connecting to the device. Once connected, the Stingray then collects all the data from your phone to include your telephone number, text messages and GPS data — all without having to justify the need for such information to a judge, thus avoiding the needs to get a warrant.

The ability to skirt the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment is extremely useful to police departments. By circumventing the warrant requirement police can simply locate the Stingray in a high crime area and watch as the data rolls in. Once they hit on a cell phone number, the police can use the GPS information to track its user and make an arrest.

So why is this a problem?  If police can locate and arrest bad guys, what’s the harm?

The problems begin to reveal themselves in application of the Stingray.  The GPS data on your phone is not accurate enough to give police pinpoint data, and this is particularly troublesome in apartment complexes where a cell phone near a wall could cause police to raid the wrong apartment.  This is exactly what happened to Louise Goldsberry, the victim of a raid-gone-wrong when police mistakenly thought GPS data had directed them to her apartment.  More here.