An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : News
NEWS | June 25, 2014

What the StingRay Teaches Us About How Congress Should Approach the Reform of Law Enforcement Surveillance Authorities

By Stephanie Pell and Christopher Soghoian

In June 2013, through an unauthorized disclosure to the media by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the public learned that the NSA, since 2006, had been collecting nearly all domestic phone call detail records and other telephony metadata pursuant to a controversial, classified interpretation of Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. Prior to the Snowden disclosure, the existence of this intelligence program had been kept secret from the general public, though some members of Congress knew both of its existence and of the statutory interpretation the government was using to justify the bulk collection. Unfortunately, the classified nature of the Section 215 metadata program prevented them from alerting the public directly, so they were left to convey their criticisms of the program directly to certain federal agencies as part of a non-public oversight process. The efficacy of an oversight regime burdened by such strict secrecy is now the subject of justifiably intense debate. In the context of that debate, this Article examines a very different surveillance technology — one that has been used by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies for more than two decades without invoking even the muted scrutiny Congress applied to the Section 215 metadata program. During that time, this technology has steadily and significantly expanded the government’s surveillance capabilities in a manner and to a degree to date largely unnoticed and unregulated. Indeed, it has never been explicitly authorized by Congress for law enforcement use. This technology, commonly called the StingRay, the most well-known brand name of a family of surveillance devices, enables the government, directly and in real-time, to intercept communications data and detailed location information of cellular phones — data that it would otherwise be unable to obtain without the assistance of a wireless carrier. Drawing from the lessons of the StingRay, this Article argues that if statutory authorities regulating law enforcement surveillance technologies and methods are to have any hope of keeping pace with technology, some formalized mechanism must be established through which complete, reliable and timely information about new government surveillance methods and technologies can be brought to the attention of Congress.




Data Privacy and Security as a National Security Imperative
October 30, 2023

Command by intent can ensure command post survivability
August 29, 2023

The Tipping Point for Army Distributed Command and Control
August 1, 2023

Acknowledging the Realities of the Cyber Workforce
July 20, 2023

The Buzz About Electromagnetic Pulse Weapons
July 19, 2023

Book review: ‘On Disinformation’ by Lee McIntyre
July 19, 2023

June 20, 2023

May 3, 2023

West Point hosts Joint Service Academy Cybersecurity Summit as industry, government collaborate to defend against cyber threats
April 13, 2023

Soldiers innovating technology, refining tactical concepts, and strengthening partnerships
April 11, 2023