Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Privacy Watchdog: ATF Uses Stingrays to Track Americans

'Although the agency attempted to minimize the usage of stingrays, it is clear they are being widely used against Americans... '

(Ken Silva, Headline USAThe Project for Privacy & Surveillance Accountability announced this week that it has obtained records about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ use of stingrays to track Americans.

Stingrays are a relatively new technology that simulate cell towers and collect signals from devices nearby.

PPSA filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the ATF in February 2021, and announced on Wednesday that it had received a batch of documents. According to PPSA, those documents show that the agency uses stingrays.

“The information released by the ATF confirms the agency is indeed utilizing stingray technology,” PPSA said. “Although the agency attempted to minimize the usage of stingrays, it is clear they are being widely used against Americans.”

PPSA has not published the documents it received, but described some of their contents.

“The ATF stressed that stingrays are not precise location trackers like GPS, despite the plethora of information stingrays can still provide,” the organization said. “Answers to questions from the Senate Appropriations Committee about the ATF’s usage of stingrays and license plate reader technology are entirely blacked out in the ATF documents we received.”

PPSA added that ATF policy conceals the use of these devices from their targets, even when relevant to their legal defense.

PPSA said there’s an example of this in the documents it received.

“When an ATF agent interviewed by a defense attorney revealed the use of the equipment, a large group email was sent out saying: ‘This was obviously a mistake and is being handled,’” the privacy watchdog said.

PPSA said it will continue to track stingray usage and report the responses it receives to its FOIA requests with various federal agencies.

Civil liberties activists have noted that the use of stingrays by law enforcement dramatically increased after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Carpenter v. U.S., which found that law enforcement’s warrantless collection of cell phone geolocation data violated the Fourth Amendment. Instead of obtaining warrants, police agencies have used stingrays as a workaround.

Ken Silva is a staff writer at Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/jd_cashless.

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