Stingray Technology Opens New Front of Surveillance

By Isaiah Findley-Pinnock,
Tech & Innovation Writer


Do you remember the scene in Batman: The Dark Knight from 2008 where out of desperation Bruce Wayne creates, what he called, a “High Frequency Generator Receiver?”

The main premise of the machine was to simultaneously utilize the audio from every phone in Gotham in order to pin point the Jokers location. Admittedly, and I am sure any Batman fan can verify, his methods were effective. But as the operator of the machine, Morgan Freemen, pointed out, “this is wrong.”

Now what if I told you, you’ve been living under surveillance of a similar machine for quite some time now? Because that is exactly what I am telling you.

Wired reported that in more than 23 states: including Washington, California, Virginia, Minnesota, Utah, etc. police, FBI, and DEA agents have been reported using devices known as Hail storms, StingRays and Dirtboxes for about ten years now. These devices, the Hail storm, StingRay, and DRT (aka Dirtbox), all function in a relatively similar way, differing only in their strength and placements. When activated, these devices simulate cellular towers which attract our phones to connect with them. Once tethered, these machines have the capability to reveal your ID and location. They also have the ability to intercept calls and text, and for unfortunate Sprint customers there have been reports of service disruption as a result of these cellular town simulators. Their latest known advancement from 2013 enhanced their capabilities to enable them to monitor LTE cellular networks as well.

In 2014, there were reports that the US Marshals Service had several aircrafts with Dirtboxes installed on them. This strategy provided officials with what one might call, a Godly perspective of the US population. Most recently, StingRays have been attached to drones which provides a more dynamic approach to this new surveillance technology.
Originally, when this technology was exclusively for the FBI, its purpose was to help locate terrorist threats. Now in the hands of local police departments, this technology is being used for trivial matters. For example, Ars Technica said that in Milwaukee this technology was used to apprehend a citizen for violating probation; that case was United States v. Patrick. This absurd exercise of power reveals a flaw with the new technology that has led to police miss using their time, and talents on someone who isn’t even committing a crime (violating probation, nor is having an outstanding violation warrant a crime).

I guess when you have the resources to bypass the detective process you also reserve the right to step over the Fourth Amendment, right?


I can empathize with the shock that legislation and the courts must have experienced in the wake of this new technological advance; especially when police departments and government agencies have tried their hardest to keep their new toy a secret. Amazingly however, once the courts caught wind of the euphemisms and verbal chicanery that police departments and government agencies were using to hind their new intrusive methods for investigations, in light of the fourth Amendment they stated rejecting all material obtained though these methods, calling them “unlawful search and seizures.”

Legislation, at a federal level has recently started requiring federal agencies to obtain a warrant to use a StingRay or Dirtbox in any capacity. With the exception of a few states, local police departments still don’t need a warrant to use these unconstitutional methods.
But I leave you, reader, with this, police stations across the Orange County are beginning to adopt such technologies.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, February 9th print edition.

Contact Isaiah at


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