Cell phone service got dicey at an Eric Garner protest in Chicago last month. One activist tweeted this picture of a vehicle, suspected to be outfitted with a cell tower simulator (often referred to as a Stingray), which sucks up cell phone data from nearby phones.
— Page May (@may20p) December 5, 2014
The plot thickened when Anonymous posted a video that included audio of a conversation intercepted from public police radio during a protest on black Friday. Two officers (one who identifies himself as being from CPIC, the Chicago Prevention and Information Center, the local fusion center) are heard discussing information they are culling from one of the organizer’s cell phones. Reader Supported News identifies that organizer as Kristiana Colón.
Colón asked us: “The question is, should you have a warrant before you track or tap my phone?”
“What’s happening … is a template for how civil liberties can be stripped from citizens in any moment of social unrest,” she said. “Police forces are more concerned with protecting retail and commerce … than they are with protecting the rights of people.”
No Warrant Needed What’s the answer to Colon’s question? Do police need a warrant to monitor our cell phones? On December 23, Senators Leahy and Grassley, Chair and Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee at the time (in the new Congress, their roles have flipped), sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson seeking some answers. Their letter reveals that the FBI does not bother to get a warrant in “cases in which the technology is used in public places or other locations at which the FBI deems there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.” If that’s the assumption the FBI is operating under, it is likely that local police departments are making the same assumption (as appears to be the case in Chicago). Activists may want to consider taking precautions. Here are some tips posted on pastebin: