New Maryland Law Bans Warrantless Stingray Spying; Hinders Federal Surveillance Program

New Maryland Law Bans Warrantless Stingray Spying; Hinders Federal Surveillance Program by  for Activist Post

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (May 8, 2020) – Yesterday, Maryland Gov. Lawrence Hogan announced he would allow a bill to ban the use of “stingrays” to track the location of phones without a warrant and prohibit police from sweeping up electronic communications to go into law without his signature.

Del. David Moon (D), along with three fellow Democrats, introduced House Bill 499 (HB499) on Jan. 24. Sen. Charles Sydnor (D-Baltimore) sponsored the companion, Senate Bill 246 (SB246). The new law helps block the use of cell-site simulators, known as “stingrays.” These devices essentially spoof cell phone towers, tricking any device within range into connecting to the stingray instead of the tower. This allows law enforcement to sweep up communications content, as well as locate and track the person in possession of a specific phone or other electronic device.

The new law adds provisions to existing Maryland statutes limiting warrantless location tracking through electronic devices to address the use of cell-site simulators. Under the law, police will be required to get a court order based on probable cause before deploying a stingray device. The law also bars police from using a stingray to obtain communication content and spells out explicit criteria law enforcement must meet in order to justify such an order.

On Feb. 27, the House passed HB499 by a 132-4 vote. The Senate concurred with a unanimous vote of 45-0. The law will go into effect on Oct. 1, 2020.

The new law includes limitations on the use of stingrays even with a court order. These restrictions require police to restrict the investigative use of any third–party or non-target data without a further court order. The law requires the deletion of any incidentally gathered information on persons not named in the court order immediately upon the expiration of the order.

Information gathered in violation of the law will be subject to the exclusionary rule as judicially determined. Information gathered on non-targeted devices would not be admissible in court under any circumstances.

The law will not only protect privacy in Maryland, but it will also hinder one aspect of the federal surveillance state.

IMPACT ON FEDERAL SURVEILLANCE PROGRAMS

The federal government funds the vast majority of state and local stingray programs, attaching one important condition. The feds require agencies acquiring the technology to sign non-disclosure agreements. This throws a giant shroud over the program, even preventing judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys from getting information about the use of stingrays in court. The feds actually instruct prosecutors to withdraw evidence if judges or legislators press for information. As the Baltimore Sun reported in April 2015, a Baltimore detective refused to answer questions on the stand during a trial, citing a federal non-disclosure agreement.

Defense attorney Joshua Insley asked Cabreja about the agreement.

“Does this document instruct you to withhold evidence from the state’s attorney and Circuit Court, even upon court order to produce?” he asked.

“Yes,” Cabreja said.

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