Politics & Government

New law requires warrants for Stingray use

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill Monday that requires police to tell judges when they use a high-tech surveillance device called a cell site simulator.

Legislators in both the House and Senate unanimously approved the bill, authored in part by state Rep. David Tayor, R-Moxee.

Civil libertarians lauded the bill’s signing, saying the state’s new law is one of the strongest in the nation.

“I don’t think our judicial system works if judges and those being charged don’t have a view into law enforcement activities that put them in the position that they’re in,” said Jared Friend, technology and liberty director for the Seattle American Civil Liberties Union.

A cell site simulator — commonly called “Stingray” — trick all nearby cellphones into connecting with it by mimicking a cell tower.

This newspaper revealed last year that the Tacoma Police Department has had a Stingray since 2008, the only state police agency known to have such a device. The paper reported in August that the department had used its device hundreds of times since 2009 to find criminal suspects without telling judges about its capabilities.

After report, Pierce County Superior Court judges demanded police notify them in requests to deploy the technology. Judges also made police promise to not keep data collected on nonsuspects.

The new law imposes similar requirements statewide, dictating that police get a warrant from a judge before deploying a cell site simulator. That warrant must disclose the use of the device. Police also must discard cellphone data from people who are not the specific target of a police investigation.

Some versions of the FBI nondisclosure agreement that police agencies must sign to obtain cell site simulators encourage officers to hide the use of the technology from judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Because of the bill, Friend said, “Criminal defendants will also have access to the court orders that are required justifying the use of the Stingray.”

Parts of the bill were written by Daniel Rigmaiden, an Arizona resident who was snared by the FBI’s Stingray in 2008 and helped reveal the existence of the police surveillance technology.

Related stories from Bellingham Herald