Earlier this week, on October 23rd 2015, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a lawsuit against San Bernardino County over their prevalent use of Stingrays over the course of the last 4 years. More specifically, the EFF is demanding the release of Stingray warrants, the date range of the searches, the nature of their investigations, what items to be searched for, as well as any other relevant data that was targeted or obtained as a result of these searches. According to California State Law, such information is supposed to be considered “public record,” but the EFF is alleging that the San Bernardino Sheriffs office has failed to adequately release these records to the public.
For anyone whom might not be aware, Stingrays work by mimicking cell phone towers in order to intercept, record and store telecommunications data. Once deployed, every cell phone call or text message sent within a given range is picked up and recorded, before the data is downloaded and transported for analysis. It is important to understand that there is theoretically no limit on the number of people which can be compromised or recorded by Stingrays once deployed, which is exactly why their use for law enforcement is considered so controversial. For example, even if police use a Stingray warrant for one individual, the data of everything single person in that town or county will be intercepted along with that one person. For this very reason, multiple US courts around the country have declared Stingray use illegal and un-Constitutional. This is important to understand because many people in this country believe that the San Bernardino County office, and countless other law enforcement agencies like them, are grossly overusing these devices. For example, San Bernardino police officers have deployed Stingrays approximately 303 times between the dates of January 1, 2014 and May 7, 2015 – all without seeking a warrant.
It should also be noted that San Bernardino has a particularly bad track record when it comes to illegal data interception and hacking devices without warrants. As you might remember, it was this same San Bernardino police office, along with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, which found itself in a court case with Apple after the company refused to decrypt their device. As history would have it, San Bernardino and the FBI eventually did win the case, setting precedent to make it illegal for any US based company to fully encrypt any devices they produce without offering a decryption key or backdoor for law enforcement authorities/the US Government. However, it should also be noted that well before this case finally concluded, the FBI paid Cellebrite, an Israel based tech firm, one million dollars to illegally hack Apples IOS encryption.
EFF’s Lawsuit Against San Bernardino County: