The FBI Admits It Uses Fake Cell Phone Towers to Track You
Any given time, on any given day, law enforcement could be scooping up your location data using a fake cell phone tower, and you would probably never know about it. In a just-surfaced video from October, however, the FBI has copped to using fake cell phone towers, known as “Stingrays.”
It’s no secret that the FBI uses Stingrays—“cell-site simulator” devices which force all nearby cell phones to connect to it before rerouting traffic through a real cell phone tower—in order to track callers and suspect movements. The American Civil Liberties Union has detailed law enforcement use of the devices, which have been ruled unconstitutional in two states, at length.
So it was surprising to see FBI Director James Comey talk openly about Stingrays, and about asking local law enforcement to keep their mouths shut when using them, in a recent media appearance in Charlotte. In fact, Comey said that the FBI is telling local law enforcement who use its equipment to stay mum about the whole thing.
“When we’re talking about using a device to find the location of a particular individual and where they might be using their cell phone, it’s not about intercepting their calls,” Comey said.
“It may be about finding what cell tower someone’s phone is pinging off of and with proper authority, we, the feds, and our local brothers and sisters have to be able to do that to investigate all kinds of things,” he added. “It’s how we find killers, it’s how we find kidnappers, it’s how we find drug dealers, it’s how we find missing children, it’s how we find pedophiles. It’s work you want us to be able to do.”
Comey also said that the agency has “nothing to hide” from “good people,” but that secrecy is important if Stingrays are going to be effective. Comey doesn’t note, however, that, in trying to track down any one “bad person,” the agency law enforcement necessarily tracks the locations of everyone within a wide geographic radius, thanks to the way the technology works.