Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

"This opinion strongly reinforces the strength of our constitutional privacy rights in the digital age," the ACLU said. (Photo: sj carey/flickr/cc)

In Privacy Win, Federal Judge Rejects 'Stingray' Evidence for First Time

"Absent a search warrant, the government may not turn a citizen's cell phone into a tracking device"

Nadia Prupis

For the first time, a federal judge has thrown out evidence obtained by police without a warrant using the controversial "Stingray" device that mimics cell phone towers to trick nearby devices into connecting with them, revealing private information.

U.S. District Judge William Pauley said the defendant's rights were violated when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) used a Stingray to figure out his home address during a drug investigation.

Pauley rejected the evidence, writing, "The use of a cell-site simulator constitutes a Fourth Amendment search.... Absent a search warrant, the government may not turn a citizen's cell phone into a tracking device."
"This opinion strongly reinforces the strength of our constitutional privacy rights in the digital age."
—Nathan Freed Wessler, ACLU

The ACLU said it was the first time such a ruling has been issued and was a significant victory for privacy rights. The civil liberties group has long criticized the rampant secrecy surrounding Stingray use by law enforcement, estimating that at least 66 agencies in 24 states and the District of Columbia have the devices, but warning that the tally "dramatically underrepresents" actual use of Stingrays nationwide.

"After decades of secret and warrantless use of Stingray technology by federal law enforcement to track phones, a federal court has finally held the authorities to account," said Nathan Freed Wessler, staff attorney with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. "The feds are now firmly on notice that when they hide their intent to use invasive surveillance technology from courts and fail to get a warrant, their evidence will be suppressed. This opinion strongly reinforces the strength of our constitutional privacy rights in the digital age."

In March, a Maryland appeals court became the first appellate court to throw out Stingray evidence.

"We conclude that people have a reasonable expectation that their cell phones will not be used as real-time tracking devices by law enforcement, and—recognizing that the Fourth Amendment protects people and not simply areas—that people have an objectively reasonable expectation and privacy in real-time cell phone location information," the panel wrote at the time.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Nebraska Mother, Daughter Face Abortion Charges After Facebook Shares Chats With Police

"Until Meta gives up surveilling private messages and begins protecting its users with end-to-end encryption, it remains complicit in the surveillance and criminalization of pregnant people," said one advocate.

Julia Conley ·


To Tackle Stubborn Inflation, Experts Urge Bold Action Against 'Corporate Profiteering'

"To truly see recovery on prices for consumers, policymakers need to hold companies accountable," said one expert.

Jake Johnson ·


Trump Spews 'Tirade of Same Old Lies' But Pleads the Fifth in New York AG Probe

Noting the ex-president once said that "only guilty people and mobsters plead the Fifth," a Democratic congressman said that "today he proved the point."

Brett Wilkins ·


Becca Balint, Backed by Bernie Sanders, Wins Vermont US House Primary

"This was only possible because of people from every corner of Vermont who banded together to work and vote for a brighter future," said the victorious candidate.

Kenny Stancil ·


Top Economists Hail Chilean Constitution as 'New Global Standard' on Climate, Inequality

"The world has much to learn from the exemplary process of the convention and the visionary product on which Chile will vote in its September plebiscite."

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo