August 22, 2016
I recently examined for Law360 a federal court decision in U.S. v. Lambis that marked the first time a federal judge has suppressed evidence secured from a cell-site simulator, or "Stingray" device. These devices mimic cell towers for surveillance purposes and can locate a cell phone.
The case and decision are part of the larger story of mounting attempts to constrain law enforcement's use of Stingrays and similar devices, the use of which remained largely unknown by the public as recently as 2011. Indeed, as I explain in my article, secrecy around the technology was such that "law enforcement agents who sought judicial permission to use cellular phone surveillance technology...often were less than explicit about the particularly technology they intended to use." The government's use of Stingrays has raised concern (and eyebrows) and more recently restrictions on the use of this technology have been sought via various legislative and judicial means.
The Lambis case is also significant as it may impact cases currently pending in other venues and future cases. Pending cases may follow the Lambis court's reasoning, and exclude Stingray evidence in cases where the warrant does not explicitly permit it. Future cases may be impacted if judges find distinctions between Stingray evidence and other cellular tracking techniques sufficiently meaningful that they decline to grant warrants for Stingray use.
That said, there remains much to be said and determined by the courts and government regarding Stingray use, particularly as we all continue to grapple with the balance between privacy and security. We'll continue to monitor related decisions to see how influential Lambis proves to be.
Disclaimer: This post does not offer specific legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. You should not reach any legal conclusions based on the information contained in this post without first seeking the advice of counsel.
About the Author:
Abraham J. Rein is an Associate in the Firm's Internal Investigations & White Collar Defense and Co-Chair of its Information Privacy & Security Practice Group. Mr. Rein's national practice focuses on representing individuals and businesses in complex litigation settings, ranging in scope from consumer fraud to securities, civil rights, antitrust and government regulation. He has experience in the area of electronic discovery, advising clients on best practices for compliance with technically challenging preservation and production obligations when faced with a subpoena or anticipated litigation. Learn More >>