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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 HolderSenate panel dukes it out over voting rights Progressive groups announce M voting rights effort Congress in lockdown: Will we just 'get used to it'? MORE and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson that the practice may violate the constitutional right to privacy in addition to disrupting cellphone service.

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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.

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