Proposed law would limit police use of cellphone recording technology

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An effort is underway to limit the police use of secret recording technology to gain access to your cellphone. (WLS)

An effort is underway to limit the police use of secret recording technology to gain access to your cellphone.

Picture this: You're texting a friend. You're not aware that police are scanning the area with a so-called Stingray device. It mimics what a cell tower does and intercepts your text. You don't know it. Police don't give a hoot about your conversation.

They're interested in someone else - an investigative target, but your cellphone data, and everyone else around you, gets captured by the Stingray.

"You can be sitting in your living room and unbeknownst to you, your cellphone information could be being pinged to a Stingray, and you wouldn't even know that," said State Rep. Ann Williams.

Williams and Sen. Daniel Biss are offering up new legislation that would restrict when and how secret cellphone tracking systems can be used. Chicago has one, but when and how it's been used has been a secret - an issue that is now in court.

The Citizen Privacy Protection Act would do this. If police want to use a Stingray or similar device, they have to get a warrant. They must disclose to the court how the device works, how it's to be deployed, and whether cellphone data from non-targets will be captured. If it is, it must be immediately destroyed.

Cellphone trackers can reveal your location, can capture emails, texts, conversations, and even block calls. The technology can be enormously valuable - life-saving. The legislation would allow its use in life-and-death emergencies, or possible acts of terrorism, but simply using it to, say, monitor protestors - without a warrant - would be a no-no.

"We believe this legislation, which is good enough for the Department of Justice and Homeland Security, will be good enough for legislation in Illinois to safely and responsibly use this new technology," Biss said.

This is legislation that, once again, attempts to strike a balance between the interest of public safety and the right to privacy. Four states have laws similar to what Illinois lawmakers will now consider. The lawsuit seeking to shed light on Chicago police use of a cell-tracker is moving forward with another hearing a month from now.

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chicago police departmentsurveillance
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