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Criminal Conviction Challenged Because of Police High-Tech Wiretap

Updated on March 5, 2016

High Tech Wiretap Equipment Still Needs a Warrant

A man found guilty of sexual assault in Washington, D.C. Superior Court is challenging his conviction by arguing that evidence from police technology that tapped his cellphone without a warrant was illegal.

The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department has used the technology since 2003. The appeal by Prince Jones is the first time it has been challenged in court.

He argues that the warrantless phone tap violated his Fourth Amendment right to privacy.

The technology, called Stingrays, mimics the function of cellphone towers. The suitcase-sized devices redirect cellphone signals to their receivers, allowing police to track a cellphone user’s location.

Stingrays were used clandestinely by the U.S. Secret Service before they were turned over to local police.

Jones was convicted in 2014 of robbing two women he contacted for escort services through Backpage.com. He made them perform oral sex on him at knifepoint.

Jones’ appeal said police first obtained his cellphone number then tracked him down by using a Stingray.

Jones’ legal strategy to throw out the evidence against him could benefit from a non-disclosure agreement between D.C. Police and the FBI.

Under the 2012 agreement, police and prosecutors are supposed to dismiss cases instead of disclosing information about Stingray technology if the FBI requests it.

Some members of Congress are asking whether it is appropriate for the FBI to exert influence over criminal prosecutions to protect its secret technology.

D.C. police paid for the Stingrays with U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant money. The devices were supposed to be used to monitor terrorism suspects, according to records submitted in court by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Secret police technology called Stingray still requires a warrant.
Secret police technology called Stingray still requires a warrant.

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