Baltimore police accused of illegal mobile spectrum use with stingrays

From ArsTechnica:

A law professor has filed a formal legal complaint on behalf of three advocacy organizations, arguing that stingray use by law enforcement agencies nationwide—and the Baltimore Police Department in particular—violate Federal Communications Commission rules.

The new 38-page complaint makes a creative argument that because stingrays, or cell-site simulators, act as fake cell towers, that law enforcement agencies lack the spectrum licenses to be able to broadcast at the relevant frequencies. Worse still, when deployed, cell service, including 911 calls, are disrupted in the area.

Stingrays are used by law enforcement to determine a mobile phone’s location by spoofing a cell tower. In some cases, stingrays can intercept calls and text messages. Once deployed, the devices intercept data from a target phone along with information from other phones within the vicinity. At times, police have falsely claimed the use of a confidential informant when they have actually deployed these particularly sweeping and intrusive surveillance tools. Often, they are used to locate criminal suspects.

As Laura Moy of Georgetown University wrote to the FCC:

Under the Communications Act, to operate a cellular transceiver on licensed spectrum reserved for operation of cellular networks, BPD is required by federal law to obtain a license. But in a clear violation of law, BPD has no license whatsoever to operate its CS simulator equipment on frequency bands that are exclusively licensed to cellular phone carriers in Baltimore. BPD further violates the Communications Act by willfully interfering with the cellular network through its use …

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