Want To Track Cellphones? Get a Warrant, Lawmakers Say

Law enforcement cellphone tracking devices are coming under scrutiny in several states, where lawmakers have introduced proposals ranging from warrant requirements to an outright ban on the technology.

Privacy and constitutional concerns, including Fourth Amendment search and seizure violations, are being cited with the proposed laws on cell-site simulators.

The suitcase-size devices, widely known under the brand name Stingray [pictured here], mimic cellphone towers and allow law enforcement to collect unique subscriber numbers and other basic data from cellphones in a particular area. The data can help police determine the location of a targeted phone -- and phones of innocent bystanders -- in real time without the users even making calls or sending text messages.

Law enforcement officials say the devices are vital in helping to find suspects and victims, and to solve crimes.

At least 13 states already require warrants to track cellphones in real time: California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Utah and Virginia.

Federal law enforcement officers also must get warrants, under policies put in place in 2015 by the departments of Justice and Homeland Security.

Courts around the country, meanwhile, have issued conflicting opinions about whether warrants are needed for cellphone location data, leading to a hodgepodge of rules.

Bills addressing use of the devices are now pending in at least eight states, according to a review by The Associated Press. Most of them would require police to get warrants. One bill, introduced by South Carolina state Rep. J. Todd Rutherford, would ban the purchase and use of cell-site simulators by law enforcement.

"I think most people would be offended if they knew exactly how much surveillance the government is doing," said Rutherford, a Democrat from Columbia who is the House minority leader and a criminal defense lawyer. "It's got to stop somewhere."

Rutherford isn't even sure if...

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