Cell phone tracking technology outpacing public policy - My29 WFTC Minneapolis-St. Paul

Cell phone tracking technology outpacing public policy in Minnesota

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

Tracking technology is great at helping people find a lost phone or tablet, but does that same technology belong in the hands of the government and law enforcement?

Your private data is now one of the hottest topics in the country, and also at a State Capitol hearing where lawmakers learned Tuesday that the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension already uses such tracking technology to help solve violent crimes.


The technology used involves a pair of devices called Stingray and Kingfish. The BCA has had the device since 2005, and lawmakers also learned the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office has one too.

In a recent letter to Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis), the Department of Public Safety disclosed the device has cost $632,000.

The use of the devices plays into a very broad discussion from state lawmakers about how law enforcement is collecting personal data, and should there be limits?


The key to these Stingray devices is portability. Detectives can mount a unit inside a van or a truck, hook it up to a laptop and essentially turn it into moving cell phone tower.

With that device they can then suck in cell phone signals, identify a specific number and then find out not only where that phone is, but which other numbers it has been calling.


The Stingray is extremely valuable in tracking suspects, but the American Civil Liberties Union argues it also raises extreme 4th Amendment concerns.

"Because of the sheer number of innocent people whose records are affected, we think it is important that law enforcement agents obtain a warrant based upon probable cause for this type of information in particular," ACLU staff attorney Catherine Crump argued.

The Department of Public Safety said obtaining a warrant is exactly what they do.

"Any time we're doing any sort of tacking of movements of anybody using this technology, we use a court order," said BCA assistant superintendent Andrew Evans.

Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul) isn't reassured by the BCA, and wants specific answers to specific questions.

"I appreciated their response, but 'trying to get' is not an answer for me, Or, 'most of the time we do X,' is not a good enough answer for me," Lesch said. "I want answers as to what they're allowed to do specifically at what times and what they're specific policies are."

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