The controversial cell phone spying tool, known as "Stingrays" or "IMSI catchers," has been used by authorities to track criminal suspects most of the times without obtaining court orders.
But now, the Federal law agencies will have to be more transparent about their use of Stingrays to spy on cell phones. Thanks to the new policy announced Thursday by the US Department of Justice.
For years, local police and federal authorities have used and spent over $350,000 on Stingrays, which essentially mimic mobile phone tower, to track cell phones in countless investigations.
What is Stingray?
Stingrays, made by the Harris Corporation, has capabilities to access user's unique IDs and phone numbers, track and record locations, and sometimes even intercept Internet traffic and phone calls, send fake texts and install spyware on phones.
The authorities used these tracking tools for years to breach people's privacy and did everything to keep even the existence of these devices out of the public eye. They even avoid telling judges when they used them.
What this New Policy will Change?
However, the new policy will now require federal agents to obtain a court authorization or warrant to use these tracking devices in all but the direst circumstances.
"This new policy ensures our protocols for this technology are consistent, well-managed and respectful of individuals' privacy and civil liberties," Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates said in a statement.
Not just obtain warrants, but the new policy also forces federal agencies to completely destroy the collected data as soon as the criminal suspect's mobile phone is located, or, regardless, once a day.
Moreover, the agencies will have to present their annual data revealing that how many times they have used stingrays.
What this new Policy will Not Change?
Although the new federal policy is something civil liberties groups have been seeking for years, it does not apply to everyone local and state cops, who also use stingrays to track criminal suspects.
Staff Attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, Nate Freed Wessler, called this new policy a step forward in the "right direction" as well as "a win for privacy and transparency."
However, Wessler also noted that the new policy does not cover local and regional authorities who also owns Stingrays, which would left the door open for "undefined" circumstances where law enforcement doesn't need a warrant - something that could become "a serious loophole."
You can read the full policy right here.