Privacy SOS

Color of Change petitions the FCC to force police transparency on stingrays

The advocacy organization Color of Change is mobilizing its members to ask FCC chairman Tom Wheeler to require transparency and policy commitments before authorizing local police departments to use controversial cell site simulator technology known as stingrays. 

The group’s message to the FCC reads:

Tell Chairman Wheeler and the FCC:

Use your certification authority over Stringray devices to:

  1. Suspend the warrantless use of these devices.
  2. Require all law enforcement agencies to publicly register their devices.
  3. Require all law enforcement agencies looking to certify their devices to provide detailed and public policies outlining their use.

It’s an interesting advocacy angle for stingray transparency and accountability. As it stands, a patchwork of state law requires police obtain warrants to use stingrays in some, but not most, states. There is no federal statute requiring law enforcement to get warrants to use the invasive devices. In September 2015, the DOJ issued internal guidance ordering its agents to get warrants before using stingrays, but large loopholes in the policy create room for widespread, warrantless deployment in cases related to “national security” and organized crime. And even if the rules were perfect, they are just that: rules. Internal policy guidance isn’t a substitute for a Supreme Court ruling or statutory protection that enshrines our rights to privacy under the law. Unfortunately, with today’s congress, there’s little chance we will soon see a federal statute requiring stingray transparency and accountability. 

In this context, the idea of asking the FCC to step in and require disclosures from law enforcement agencies using stingrays is novel and encouraging. If you want to add your voice to Color of Change’s petition to the FCC, take action.

© 2018 ACLU of Massachusetts.