DOJ reviewing phone spying technology

DOJ reviewing phone spying technology
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The Justice Department has launched a review of the administration’s use of controversial surveillance techniques that track people through their phones.

The effort could lift the shroud of secrecy around the use of so-called “Stingray” or “IMSI-Catcher” devices, which allow the government to obtain people’s location and identifying information by replicating cellphone towers and tricking phones into sending information. Concerns about people’s privacy have been heightened in recent months, after revelations that the U.S. Marshals Service attaches the devices to airplanes flying out of five major U.S. airports, allowing the agency to peer into the phones of thousands of people on the ground. 

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“With regard to this particular technology, the Department of Justice is in the process of examining its policies to ensure they reflect the department’s continuing commitment to conducting its vital missions while according appropriate respect for privacy and civil liberties,” department spokesman Patrick Rodenbush said in a statement to The Hill.

According to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported news of the review, the department will begin to reveal more information about its use of the technology. The FBI has also begun to ask for search warrants before using it, the Journal reported, which is a change in pace from its previous warrantless use of the tool. 

The changes come amid increasing ire over the department’s use of the devices from Capitol Hill and privacy advocates around the country.

Last month, the bipartisan heads of the Senate Judiciary Committee scolded then-Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderThe most important pledge Democratic presidential candidates can make Congress and contempt: What you need to know The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats wonder: Can Nadler handle the Trump probe? MORE for failing to respond to previous questions about the Obama administration’s use of the technology. 

Additionally, they said they had “additional concerns” about reports that the technology’s development was aided by the CIA, which usually steers clear of domestic surveillance work.

Some local police departments have also become enamored of the technology and have used it frequently.

According to recent court testimony, Baltimore police have used Stingrays more than 4,300 times since 2007.