US Marshals sued over plane cellphone tracking

Activists with the Electronic Frontier Foundation have filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to gain new details about how the U.S. Marshals Service fakes cellphone towers to track people’s phones.

The agency’s use of the devices — known as “StingRays” or “IMSI catchers” — has caused concern among civil liberties advocates, who worry that the devices gather up data about thousands of innocent people through their phones.

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The small devices are reportedly attached to planes launching out of five major U.S. airports, and are able to trick cellphones into transmitting identifying information about their the phone’s owner and their location.

“These devices pose obvious privacy concerns, but the government has been opaque about its use of stingrays,” EFF legal fellow Andrew Crocker said in a statement. "It's time to do away with the secrecy."

Last year, the Web freedom group filed a FOIA request for documents about the U.S. Marshals Service program in the wake of a Wall Street Journal story that revealed it has been in existence since 2007. Without receiving a response, the group is now taking the matter to court.

The existence of the Marshals Service program raised new fears about the government’s use of the devices, which were previously the target of ire from EFF and similar groups.

Late last year, 11 Democratic senators warned Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderEric Holder says Trump is subject to prosecution after leaving office Eric Holder: Democrats 'have to understand' that 'borders mean something' Trump lawyers ask judge to toss out Dems' tax return lawsuit MORE and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson that the government’s use of the technology without a warrant might violate the constitutional right to privacy.