The Maryland Court of Special Appeals on Wednesday upheld a historic decision by a state trial court that the warrantless use of cell-site simulators, or Stingrays, violates the Fourth Amendment.
The trial court had suppressed evidence obtained by the warrantless use of a Stingray — the first time any court in the nation had done so.
Last April, a Baltimore police detective testified that the department has used Stingrays 4,300 times since 2007, usually without notifying judges or defendants.
The ruling has the potential to set a strong precedent about warrantless location tracking. “Police should now be on notice,” said Nate Wessler, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “Accurately explain your surveillance activities to a judge and get a warrant, or risk your evidence being thrown out.”
Stingrays mimic cellphone towers, tricking nearby phones into connecting and revealing users’ locations. Stingrays sweep up data on every phone nearby — collecting information on dozens or potentially hundreds of people.