Illinois moving to restrict cell phone surveillance

State lawmakers and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois agree a piece of surveillance equipment used by law enforcement needs to be regulated, but police officials have said they want to ensure the devices can still be used to help crime victims.

Law enforcement uses equipment known as Stingrays to get information from cell phones by mimicking a cellular tower. A measure awaiting Gov. Bruce Rauner’s signature would allow the police to locate a suspect’s phone only after obtaining a warrant.

Patrick O’Connor, chair of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police Legislative Committee, said police should have the ability to find a missing victim.

“What we don’t want is language so restrictive that we can’t gather cell tower pinging to locate victims’ phones, when you can’t articulate that a crime took place to get a warrant, but you know there’s a safety risk to the victim. We’re looking more toward victim phones.” O’Connor said the association dropped its opposition to the measure after lawmakers allowed for emergency use of the devices.

Ed Yohnka, the communications and public policy director for the ACLU of Illinois, said he is confident that the commonsense checks on these devices will soon be a reality. “We believe that the governor will sign the bill into law and that Illinois will place these modest regulations on the use of the technology.”

Yohnka said newer versions of the device can retrieve more than just location information. He said the device can download content such as websites visited and text messages. The federal government already has rules in place similar to the proposed legislation. “If these limitations are good enough for the FBI, they’re good enough for the Peoria Police Department,” Yohnka said.

A spokesman for the Illinois State Police, which purchased a number of the devices, said the department doesn’t comment on pending bills.

–Illinois News Network

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