IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has written a letter in response to questions from Senator Ron Wyden regarding the use of cell-site simulator technology, both admitting to use of the “StingRay” devices and expressing a desire to continue doing so in the future.
Essentially, a StingRay device pretends to be a cell phone tower, tricking all phones within a large radius into connecting.Once a connection has been established, the cell-site simulation can be used to retrieve any and all information from those devices. In the very recent past, the IRS has made use of these devices without remotely sufficient oversight. Recent attention to the matter has resulted in calls for better regulation and more transparency in their use.
In a letter addressed to Senator Ron Wyden, Commissioner John Koskinen asserts, “Only trained law enforcement agents have used cell-site simulation technology, carrying out criminal investigations in accordance with all appropriate federal and state judicial procedures.” The letter admits, however, that it was only in September of this year that the Department of Justice mandated that federal agencies would require a search warrant supported by probable cause in order to use the devices.
And even though the IRS is “currently drafting a policy” to be issued by the end of November in order to comply with the DOJ’s judgement, it still fails to address the core issue in the use of StingRay devices. That is, that cell-site simulation isn’t picky about the information that it acquires. Even with all of the judicial clearance in place, these devices still acquire data from every single phone in operation in a very large area, whether or not the unaware citizenry is even remotely involved in the matter under investigation.
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