Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) signed a bill into law in July restricting how local and state police may use electronic surveillance technologies, such as Stingray e-surveillance tools, during criminal investigations.
The new law, originally proposed by state Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), takes effect in January 2017. The Citizen Privacy Protection Act (CPAA) prohibits government law enforcement agents from surveilling individuals without a judge’s authorization.
E-surveillance tools, such as the Harris Corporation’s Stingray product, mimic cell phone towers by broadcasting signals to cell phones in the area. After a phone connects to the Stingray while it seeks mobile service, government agents can intercept text messages, stop phone service, and record voice conversations.
‘Very Secretive’ Programs
Khadine Bennett, associate legal director for the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, says more lawmakers are becoming aware of the spying power with which government law enforcement agencies have been equipping themselves.
“For a long time, it was very secretive whenever law enforcement obtained that technology from the Harris Corporation, because they had to sign nondisclosure agreements and it was very hush-hush,” Bennett said. “They knew it had this tremendous capability, so not only could it be used to identify a cell phone, it had the ability to locate where that device is. It also has the capability to intercept text messages and e-mails, install malware, and drain batteries.”
Reining in Privacy Violations
Bennett says the new law protects individuals’ constitutional rights.
“Essentially, what the new law says is that law enforcement can only use a Stingray device to locate or track the location of a communications device or to identify a communications device, meaning they cannot, in any circumstances, use it for those other purposes without a court order,” Bennett said.
Melissa Ngo, a privacy and information policy consultant and former senior counsel and director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s Identification and Surveillance Project, says local and state law enforcement officials are generally held to lower standards than federal investigators.
“In most cases, federal law enforcement officials cannot use the surveillance technology without a warrant,” said Ngo. “However, these are merely policies that apply to federal officials, not state or local officials, and can be changed at any time.”
Calls for More Protections
Ngo says lawmakers should do more to protect people’s constitutional rights.
“We have constitutional privacy rights,” Ngo said. “Congress and the states need to pass laws to protect our rights from such invasive surveillance technology. We should not be forced to depend on the promises of federal officials, promises that they can break at any time because these are policies that they themselves put in place.”