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 HolderChristie, Pompeo named co-chairs of GOP redistricting group Democrats look to state courts as redistricting battle heats up On The Trail: Census kicks off a wild redistricting cycle 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) TesterDemocrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Senate backers of new voting rights bill push for swift passage The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Polls open in California as Newsom fights for job MORE (Mont.), Tom UdallTom UdallOvernight Defense: Milley reportedly warned Trump against Iran strikes | Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer killed in Afghanistan | 70 percent of active-duty military at least partially vaccinated Biden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Senate Democrats befuddled by Joe Manchin MORE (N.M.), Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsSenate Democrats to Garland: 'It's time to end the federal death penalty' Hillicon Valley: Cryptocurrency amendment blocked in Senate | Dems press Facebook over suspension of researchers' accounts | Thousands push back against Apple plan to scan US iPhones for child sexual abuse images Democrats press Facebook over suspension of researchers' accounts MORE (Del.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinWarren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack This week: Democrats kick off chaotic fall with Biden's agenda at stake Bottom line 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 FrankenAl Franken on another Senate run: 'I'm keeping my options open' Andrew Cuomo and the death of shame Could Andrew Cuomo — despite scandals — be re-elected because of Trump? MORE (Minn.), John Walsh (Mont.), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyDemocrats revive filibuster fight over voting rights bill Senate backers of new voting rights bill push for swift passage Stacey Abrams backs Senate Democrats' voting rights compromise MORE (Ore.), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Senate Democrats ding Biden energy proposal Six Democrats blast Energy Department's uranium reserve pitch Facebook draws lawmaker scrutiny over Instagram's impact on teens MORE (Mass.) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Schneider Electric — Deadly Ida floodwaters grip southeast US David Sirota: Seven Democrats who voted against fracking ban trying to secure future elections Deadly extreme heat has arrived: here's how policymakers can save lives MORE (N.M.).

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