Lawmakers want to know scope of federal agencies’ use of cellphone tracking technology

Members of the House Oversight Committee on Monday sent letters to the heads of twenty-four federal agencies asking them whether or not their agencies employ the StingRay cell phone tracking technology.

The technology simulates a cell phone tower so it can collect information on mobile phones and their users. The National Journal reports that lawmakers on the committee say they want to have an accurate record of how different federal agencies use the devices.

It was recently revealed that the IRS was using the technology, and in September the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security issued new policies for how federal agencies may employ the technology.

“As it was with DOJ and DHS before those agencies issued department-wide policies governing use of the devices, the Committee is concerned that other federal agencies may be governed by a patchwork of policies,” the letters said. “Those policies may permit the use of cell-site simulators devices through a lower standard than a search warrant obtained after a showing probable cause.”

The letters were signed by Oversight chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), as well as Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Illinois), and were sent to twenty-four federal agencies, some of them, like the Social Security Administration and the National Science Foundation, not usually dealing with law enforcement issues.

NJ notes that the letters asked the agencies for documents and information related to their use – or possible use — of the technology, and are indicative of a growing unease with the unregulated use of the technology by federal agencies.

StingRays are also employed by law enforcement in twenty-two states.

Earlier this month Chaffetz introduced a bill, the Stingray Privacy Act, which would extend the DOJ’s and DHS’s warrant requirements to all StingRay users, including state and local agencies.

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