Illinois to Cops: Want to Use Stingrays? Get a Court Order

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If law enforcement wants to track you down, one option is the stingray. It can mimic cell phone tower signals and trick devices into connecting, allowing police and investigators to find you or snoop on your conversations.

It's a powerful tool, which is why the Illinois governor just signed a law that will require a court order before law enforcement can use stingrays, or cell site simulator devices, effective Jan. 1.

Under the Citizen Privacy Protection Act, "a law enforcement agency may not use a cell site simulator device, except to locate or track the location of a communications device or to identify a communications device, [and] a court order based on probable cause...is required for any permitted use of a cell site simulator device."

"It is important that we take steps to enable police to effectively investigate and solve crimes using the latest technology, but it is equally important that we protect innocent people from unnecessary and unwarranted invasions of their privacy," bill sponsor Daniel Biss said in a statement.

As Ars Technica reports, California, Washington, Virginia, Minnesota, and Utah also require warrants before law enforcement can use stingrays. The feds also have some restrictions on their use.

The Illinois faction of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says the bill signing was an important step towards individual privacy.

"We are grateful that Governor Rauner has moved to enact this measure, protecting the privacy of everyone who uses a cell phone or smartphone," Khadine Bennett, Associate Legislative Director for the Illinois ACLU said in a statement. "Given the prevalence of these devices and our reliance on the technology daily in today's society, cell site simulator technology too powerful to remain unregulated."

Bennett went on to say that if such "restrictions" on stingrays "are good enough for the FBI, they should be workable for local law enforcement in Illinois."

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