District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan has suppressed evidence collected by the use of stingrays because the agency did not first obtain a warrant. This is the first time a federal judge has suppressed stingray evidence that was gathered without a warrant. Rulings made at the district court level are not binding on future cases, but this ruling will provide persuasive precedent to judges who are faced with similar cases.
A stingray is a type of device which mimics a cell phone tower, and can be used to track a phone’s location, and consequently a person’s location if they are carrying their phone. The DEA used a stingray to track the location of defendant Raymond Lambis during a drug-trafficking investigation. Judge Pauley ruled that tracking Lambis’ location without a warrant constituted an unreasonable search. He wrote, “Absent a search warrant, the government may not turn a citizen’s cell phone into a tracking device.”
This ruling was welcomed by the ACLU, which has long criticized the use of such devices by law enforcement. An ACLU attorney stated, “This opinion strongly reinforces the strength of our constitutional privacy rights in the digital age.” By the ACLU’s count, 66 agencies in the United States own stingrays. However, they believe this underestimates the use of stingrays due to the secrecy surrounding purchases of the devices. In March, a Maryland appeals court became the first state court to suppress stingray evidence, according to the ACLU. The organization believes this case is the first time a federal judge has suppressed stingray evidence.
It is unclear if the case against Lambis will be dismissed, or if the prosecution has other evidence against him besides the stingray data. The prosecution may attempt to appeal the suppression of evidence, but it is not clear if they will do so. The prosecutors in the case declined to comment on the matter.
Was the judge right to suppress stingray data gathered without a warrant? How do you think it will affect future cases? Leave your comments below.