Probable Cause Needed to Trace Calls

     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 number information.
     A warrant requires a higher legal standard than is used for a pen register or skip/trace.
     Unfortunately, the device also accesses phone number information from all surrounding cell phones, which, under the new policy, has to be systematically removed, according to the announcement.
     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 simulators have been instrumental in aiding law enforcement for kidnappings, fugitive investigations and complicated narcotics cases.
     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 department states.
     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/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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