Groups Ask FCC and DOJ to Investigate Law Enforcement’s Warrantless Use of Cellular Surveillance Devices


WASHINGTON, DC – On March 16, 45 civil rights, public policy and public interest organizations, including ColorOfChange, Open Technology Institute, Media Alliance, the Center for Media Justice and Public Knowledge, will deliver a letter and petition demanding that the FCC and DOJ investigate law enforcement’s largely unregulated use of military-grade cellular surveillance devices, called Stingrays.


Stingrays mimic cell towers in order to indiscriminately intercept all cellular signals in an area, and enables law enforcement to gather serial numbers and location information, as well as to identify individual phones.

The groups are also asking the FCC and DOJ to remedy data collection loopholes that allow state and local law enforcement agencies to use the device with little to no transparency.

Last month, reports surfaced that the New York Police Department used Stingrays without a warrant in at least 1,000 instances. Freedom of Information Act requests have revealed that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies had been using similar surveillance devices to monitor protests and activists with the movement for Black lives in Baltimore and Ferguson.

Groups that signed the letter and delivered the petition believe the current lack of transparency and oversight will have a disparate impact on communities of color and, therefore, urge the FCC and DOJ to denounce racial profiling in police technology.

The following quote can be attributed to Emily Hong, Policy Program Associate at New America’s Open Technology Institute:”News story after story has broken regarding the use of stingray devices and other cell-site simulators for domestic surveillance by law enforcement agencies. But the technology’s widespread adoption has unfortunately not brought any more transparency or accountability to the devices’ use. Law enforcement agencies and vendors have endeavored to keep them in secret and out of the public eye, and the devices have been systematically deployed without adequate policies in place to prevent abuse and protect privacy and civil liberties. Such an invasive and powerful technology exacerbates the disparate harms of policing to the most vulnerable communities in our society—the warrantless and surreptitious uses of these devices cannot be allowed to continue.”