Bill would make police get warrant before tracking phones

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A bill filed by Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, would require authorities in Oregon to get a warrant before tracking a suspect’s cell phone or getting information from it via a cell-site simulator device like a Stingray.

Senate Bill 571 comes as more states are looking at legislation to limit the ability of law enforcement to track phones. The Associated Press reports at least 13 states already have laws requiring police to get a warrant before tracking a cell phone in real time, and six more states, including Oregon, are looking at similar laws.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the bill was in senate committee.

The ACLU said Stingrays are surveillance devices that mimic cell phone towers and send out signals to trick phones in a specific area into transmitting their locations and identifying information. The devices also gather information about the phones of bystanders who happen to be in the area.

Law enforcement agencies across the country have these devices, though “their use is often shrouded in secrecy,” according to the ACLU.

In 2015, new Justice Department policy required federal law enforcement officials to get a search warrant before using secretive and intrusive cellphone-tracking technology.

A spokesman for Oregon State Police said the agency doesn’t have any Stringray devices in its possession and no guidelines to deal with them since there aren’t any.

Kevin Campbell, executive director of the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police released the following statement on the potential legislation:

“Our statutes that address the process for seeking court approval to use this type of equipment for criminal investigation are antiquated and are desperately in need of modernization. They are based on technology that no longer exists. Federal statutes are similarly outdated. In regards to SB 571, we prefer a comprehensive rewrite of statutes as opposed to legislation that focuses on one technology at a time. This conversation is in process and, while complicated, we are hopeful that this modernization can be accomplished this session. From a policing perspective, we are committed to carefully balance constitutional privacy rights and public safety. We are sworn to protect both.”

SB 571 prohibits any public body from using a cell-site simulator device to obtain or use personal electronic data from an electronic communication device.

Under ORS 174.109, public body includes “state government bodies, local government bodies and special government bodies.”

The legislation states personal electronic data may only be obtained using a cell-site simulator if:

  1. The owner of the electronic communication device consents to the data collection
  2. The public body obtains a warrant for the data
  3. The public body obtains the data with an established exception to the warrant requirement.

The full legislation can be viewed below.

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