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Dysart Willis

Arrests made by tracking cell phones criticized

Law enforcement agencies are always looking for an edge in fighting crime. As cell phones have become an indispensible part of life for many people, authorities have taken to using these devices to track suspects’ locations and movements without their knowledge.

The devices used to do this are called stingrays (or ISMI catchers). Essentially, the act as cellular towers that can trick a cell phone into sending information to it (i.e. pings), thereby giving the cell phone’s location.  This can allow the police to track the cell phone wherever it goes. Also, when a cell phone connects to a stingray, it reveals the phone’s unique ID numbers and traffic data, which can also allow the police to see what numbers have been dialed.

The benefits to police are obvious. Being able to track a suspect’s movements can give authorities the opportunity to be in the right place at the right time in order to foil a crime. However, it can also be a violation of a person’s Fourth Amendment rights.

A recent Florida Supreme Court ruling suggests that the use of stingrays could violate a person’s right to privacy if conducted without a valid search warrant. Essentially, the ruling indicated that authorities must establish probable cause and convince a judge of such so that a warrant could be issued before tracking a suspect’s whereabouts. While the ruling does not directly affect North Carolina law, it is reasonable to believe that it could in the future.

As such, if you have been arrested or are under investigation for a crime using cell phone data, an experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you.