The use of mobile phone tracking devices known as stingrays have become so widespread that even the government itself doesn’t know how many agencies are using the technology. Recently, a group of both Democrats and Republicans from the United States House of Representatives presented the question of how many federal agencies are making use of stingrays. The answer might be a little upsetting.
Last month, leaked documents revealed that even the Internal Revenue Service is using the stingrays, which are designed to both identify the users of mobile devices and track their locations. So far, at least 13 federal agencies have been confirmed to use the technology.
In a letter that was sent earlier this week on Monday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, ranking member Elijah Cummings, and the top two members of the panel’s IT subcommittee, Will Hurd and Robin Kelly, requested that the top 24 federal agencies share their policies regarding the usage of surveillance technologies.
Stingrays function by posing as cell towers in order to trick nearby mobile devices into establishing a connection with them. Once the connection takes place, the stingray can scan the mobile device to determine the associated user and their location. The use of stingrays by the government was originally revealed last year.
Some government agencies have tried to make their policies regarding the usage of stingrays more available to the public. Both the Department of Justice and Homeland Security have published their internal guidelines for using stingrays. Their policies limit the amount of data that they can collect, and they state that warrants must be obtained before they can be used.
However, state governments and local police departments have been known to operate stingrays without obtaining warrants. This has angered members of the public who are concerned about their privacy.
In the recent letter, the House members have requested details about data retention policies, and they also want to know about any misuses of the technology that may have taken place. They targeted virtually every federal agency, even the Department of Agriculture. The House members are expecting the agencies to respond within the next two weeks.