Senators demand info on unusual surveillance activity in DC

Senators demand info on unusual surveillance activity in DC
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A bipartisan group of senators is pushing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to make public more information about the use of rogue surveillance devices colloquially known as “Stingrays.”

Homeland Security recently acknowledged the devices are being used by hostile actors in Washington, D.C.


The use of those devices by criminals and foreign spies to eavesdrop on cellphone calls and messages in the U.S. has long been suspected, but the department's disclosure was the first official confirmation of their presence.

But it left many questions unanswered, like what kind of devices the DHS had uncovered, who might have been using them and how many it found.

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The presentation was given by a DHS official at the Federal Mobile Technology Forum in Mclean, Va., in February, according to the four lawmakers.

They described the presentation as “detailed,” but gave no other details about what it reveals.

“The American people have a legitimate interest in understanding the extent to which U.S. telephone networks are vulnerable to surveillance and are being actively exploited by hostile actors,” they wrote in a letter to DHS official Christopher Krebs.

So-called International Mobile Subscriber Identity-catchers, or IMSI-catchers — known as Stingrays after a popular brand used by U.S. police departments — work by tricking cellphones into locking onto the device instead of a legitimate cellphone tower. Once they are deployed, they can intercept data from a target phone.

Experts say they are widely used by foreign embassies, which are on sovereign soil, and police departments have quietly used them for years to some controversy.

The D.C. Court of Appeals last year ruled that warrantless use of the devices violated the Fourth Amendment when it was used to locate a man suspected of sexual assault and robbery — the fourth such ruling by either a state appeals or federal district court.

Wyden, meanwhile, has been calling on the Federal Communications Commission to do more to hold phone companies accountable to ensure that they safeguard their networks against security threats.

Updated at 2:02 p.m.