ACLU v. DOJ (StingRays)

Closed Case
Jan 13, 2016

Page Media

cell tower

On April 11, 2013, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California submitted a FOIA request to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to enforce the public's right to information about the federal government’s use of a surveillance tool commonly known as a StingRay. StingRays simulate a cell tower and trick all wireless devices on the same network in the vicinity to communicate with the device. As a result, they obtain information, including the location of wireless devices, not just from particular devices targeted by the government, but also devices belonging to innocent third parties. By withholding information about this technology from courts in applications for electronic surveillance orders, the federal government is essentially seeking to write its own search warrants while engaging in a form of dragnet surveillance. The agency provided no responsive FOIA records or any information regarding the status of its search.

On July 8, 2013, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California filed a lawsuit in a district court for failing to produce documents requested in our FOIA about the federal government’s use of this surveillance tool.

On July 13, 2015, the court granted in part our summary judgment motion and ordered the government to produce some of the documents it had withheld. The government has not appealed this decision, and several months later produced documents that shed important light on its use of these intrusive devices. In early January 2016, the government finally produced the last installment, an application and warrant dating from a 2009 criminal investigation. Unfortunately, transparency sometimes takes a long time.  

Learn more

New Docs: DOJ Admits that StingRays Spy on Innocent Bystanders (Oct. 28, 2015)

ACLU Sues Government for Information About "StingRay" Cell Phone Tracking (July 8, 2013)

Justice Department Emails Show Feds Were Less Than "Explicit" with Judges on Cell Phone Tracking Tool (Mar. 27, 2013)

Fighting for Transparency (Jul. 31, 2012)