Court Rules “Stingray” Cell Phone Spy System Can Only Be Used With Warrant

In a win for liberty, a Federal Appeals court has ruled that the use of the “Stingray,” a device that can surveille cell phones remotely, cannot be deployed by law enforcement without a warrant being granted in advance.



An appeals court in Washington has ruled that law enforcement must acquire a search warrant before employing cell phone surveillance tools often known as “Stingrays.”

On September 21, an appeals court in Washington issued a damning ruling regarding law enforcement use of cell phone surveillance tools without the use of a warrant. The appeals court became the fourth court to rule against the unrestricted use of the controversial cell site simulators, sometimes known as “Stingrays.” The issue could eventually make its way to the Supreme Court. Stingray is the brand name of a popular cell-site simulator manufactured by the Harris Corporation.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation describes Stingrays as “a brand name of an IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) Catcher targeted and sold to law enforcement. A Stingray works by masquerading as a cell phone tower – to which your mobile phone sends signals to every 7 to 15 seconds whether you are on a call or not – and tricks your phone into connecting to it.”

This allows the officer who is in possession of the Stingray to know who, when, and to where you are calling, the precise location of every device within the range, and with the latest models,  capture the content of your conversations. As the use of Stingrays has grown quickly in the last five years, the public has largely remained in the dark as investigative journalists work to expose the technology.

The case involves Prince Jones, a man sentenced to 66 years in prison after he convicted of sexually assaulting two women. During Jones’ trial it was revealed that D.C. police used a Stingray to locate Jones. The police used the device without first obtaining a warrant. Mr. Jones’ attorney unsuccessfully attempted to have the evidence suppressed at his original trial due to this warrantless tracking. However, the appeals court ruling means the evidence cannot be used and the conviction is overturned.

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