Cell-Site Simulators

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Department of Justice announced its officers will need a warrant to use cell-site simulators to access a phone during an investigation and get phone numbers called and received.
     A warrant requires a higher legal standard than what was previously used.
     Unfortunately, the device also will access phone number information from all surrounding cell phones.
     The policy, which went into effect last week and applies department-wide, will provide standard guidance for the use of cell-site simulators in the department’s domestic criminal investigations and will establish new management controls for the use of the technology, according to the Justice Department’s announcement.
     “Cell-site simulator technology has been instrumental in aiding law enforcement in a broad array of investigations, including kidnappings, fugitive investigations and complicated narcotics cases. This new policy ensures our protocols for this technology are consistent, well-managed and respectful of individuals’ privacy and civil liberties,” according to Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates.
     To enhance privacy protections, the new policy establishes a set of required practices with respect to the treatment of information collected through the use of cell-site simulators. This includes data handling requirements and an agency-level implementation of an auditing program to ensure that data is deleted consistent with this policy. For example, when the equipment is used to locate a known cellular device, all data must be deleted as soon as that device is located, and no less than once daily.
     The new policy makes clear that cell-site simulators may not be used to collect the contents of any communication in the course of criminal investigations. This means data contained on the phone itself, such as emails, texts, contact lists and images, may not be collected using this technology.
     The new policy requires law enforcement agents to obtain a search warrant supported by probable cause before using a cell-site simulator. There are limited exceptions in the policy for exigent circumstances or exceptional circumstances where the law does not require a search warrant and circumstances make obtaining a search warrant impracticable. Department components will be required to track and report the number of times the technology is deployed under these exceptions.
     To ensure that the use of the technology is well managed and consistent across the department, the policy requires appropriate supervision and approval.
     

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