In a globally-connected and technology-enabled world privacy is becoming an increasing concern for American citizens (and others). More and more people are coming to rely on their mobile phones, tablets, and other electronic devices. And as mobile devices have grown more and more prominent so too have government intrusions and efforts by law enforcement agencies to hack mobile devices.
One of the more controversial information and data collection devices in use are so-called “StingRays”, which are essentially decoy cell-phone towers that can be used to track mobile phone users and intercept calls and text messages.
StingRays: Hijacking Our Cell Phones
So how does a StingRay tower work? The towers essentially hijiack cellphones and force cellphones to essentially abandon established cellphone towers from mobile service providers, such as Verizon. The StringRay than acts as a cellphone tower, and also tracks and records phone calls, texts, and other data being transmitted.
People have no warning nor any idea when their phones are being hijacked. Yet while you need a warrant to tap a land phone line, enforcement agencies have been using StingRays without any type of warrant and minimal oversight.
The FBI is now releasing its internal protocols and it appears that the FBI sees no issues with using StingRays to hijack phone calls from people who are making calls in public. According to the FBI there is no reasonable expectation of privacy while people are calling or texting in public, and thus they don’t need a warrant.
FBI Intercepting Public Domain, Private Expectations?
The U.S. government could be setting itself up for some difficult legal challenges in the future. For now the FBI is arguing that it can use Stingray devices in public places where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.
This last part is where the government may potentially find itself hung up in legal challenges. In a world where people are attached with electronic devices at the hip, it’s arguable that we all now expect privacy in public places.
Consider this. If you are sitting at Starbucks but send a private text to your significant other, you’re arguably still expecting a high degree of privacy, at least as far as your text message is concerned. Sure, other people can see you, but they will have a very difficult time reading your conversation.
At the same time you might be speaking to some one on a cell phone in public, but there is a degree of expected privacy in that no one else can hear the other person. Given these expectations the government may eventually find itself challenged on the notion of “reasonable expectations of privacy.”