DOJ Announces New Policy on Cell Phone Tracking

The U.S. Department of Justice has announced a policy on cell phone tracking devices that, in general, requires law enforcement officers to obtain warrants before using “stingray” devices and advise judges they intend to use the equipment.

Stingrays are mobile cell phone towers that are used by law enforcement to intercept a suspect’s cell phone signal in order to track a suspect’s location and gain access to texts and emails.

The problem with stingrays is that they don’t just intercept one person’s signal, they intercept cell signals of everyone in the vicinity, although the DOJ said that the type of stingray technology they use would not capture texts and emails.

The new DOJ policy requires agents to delete the data they collect via stingrays at least once a day. In addition, they will be required to keep any data that can help prove a suspect’s innocence.

“Cell-site simulator technology has been instrumental in aiding law enforcement in a broad array of investigations, including kidnappings, fugitive investigations and complicated narcotics cases” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates. “This new policy ensures our protocols for this technology are consistent, well-managed and respectful of individuals’ privacy and civil liberties.”

The new DOJ policy has some exceptions as to when officers may use stingrays without a warrant, including (1) in “exigent circumstances” when someone’s life is in danger or a suspect is about to destroy evidence; and (2) in “exceptional circumstances,” which are circumstances “where the law does not require a search warrant and circumstances make obtaining a search warrant impracticable.”

The DOJ policy does not apply to state or local law enforcement agencies, and several agencies in Texas do use cell phone tracking devices, including those in Houston, Austin and Fort Worth. Earlier this year, two Houston state legislators introduce bills in the House and Senate that would require law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant before gathering cell phone data.

Whether you are facing a serious federal white-collar prosecution, a state murder charge, or misdemeanor charges, The Cogdell Law Firm has the experience, knowledge and reputation you want for your legal team. When results matter most, contact Dan Cogdell at (713) 426-2244 or