Dem senators warn cellphone tracking could violate Constitution

Nearly a dozen Democratic senators are raising alarms about the use of fake cellphone towers that can pick up information about people's location and identity. 

The 11 lawmakers on Wednesday warned Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderEx-AG Holder urges GOP to speak against Trump efforts to 'subvert' election results Tyson Foods suspends Iowa plant officials amid coronavirus scandal Money can't buy the Senate MORE and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson that the practice may violate the constitutional right to privacy in addition to disrupting cellphone service.


The U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of Homeland Security may all be affixing the “StingRay” or “dirtbox” devices to airplanes, the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the officials, and using them to pick up the signals of thousands of people’s cellphones on the ground. The devices mimic cellphone towers to pick up people's signals.

“Whether used on an automobile or plane, these devices potentially violate the Fourth Amendment and represent a significant intrusion into the private lives of thousands of Americans,” they wrote. “While we all want law enforcement agencies to use cutting-edge tools to catch criminals and protect our borders, Americans should not have to sacrifice their privacy rights in the process.”

The government’s use of the tracking devices has long been under attack from civil liberties advocates, but Wednesday’s letter significantly raises the issue's profile on Capitol Hill. The letter follows a report in The Wall Street Journal last month detailing how the U.S. Marshals Service used the devices to track people from the sky. 

In their letter, the lawmakers asked Holder a dozen questions about the Obama administration’s use of the tracking devices.

The Democrats signing the letter are Sens. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterOvernight Defense: Trump loyalist to lead Pentagon transition | Democrats ask VA for vaccine distribution plan | Biden to get classified intel reports Senate Democrats press VA for vaccine distribution plan President is wild card as shutdown fears grow MORE (Mont.), Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallHispanic caucus unhappy with transition team treatment of Lujan Grisham Progressives urge Haaland for Interior as short list grows Senate committee approves nominations of three FEC commissioners MORE (N.M.), Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms Overnight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate MORE (Del.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinSenate Democrats reelect Schumer as leader by acclamation  Next Congress expected to have record diversity Infrastructure, energy investments urgently needed to create U.S. jobs MORE (Wis.), Mark BegichMark Peter BegichAlaska Senate race sees cash surge in final stretch Alaska group backing independent candidate appears linked to Democrats Sullivan wins Alaska Senate GOP primary MORE (Alaska), Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump, Biden clash over transition holdup, pandemic plans The Hill's Morning Report - Fearing defeat, Trump claims 'illegal' ballots The Hill's Morning Report - Biden inches closer to victory MORE (Minn.), John Walsh (Mont.), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyDemocrats introduce legislation to strike slavery exception in 13th Amendment Overnight Defense: Defense bill among Congress's year-end scramble | Iranian scientist's assassination adds hurdles to Biden's plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire Supreme Court declines to hear case challenging unlimited super PAC fundraising MORE (Ore.), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyACLU sues DHS for records on purchased cell phone data to track immigrants DHS watchdog to probe agency's tracking of Americans' phone data without a warrant Manchin: Ocasio-Cortez 'more active on Twitter than anything else' MORE (Mass.) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichHispanic caucus unhappy with transition team treatment of Lujan Grisham Progressives urge Haaland for Interior as short list grows Haaland has competition to be first Native American to lead Interior  MORE (N.M.).

The letter was also signed by Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Democrats.