Illinois law now in effect limits police cellphone spying

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 1/3/2017

A newly enacted law in Illinois targets technology used to gain access to cellphone data.

As of Jan. 1, the new rule regulates the use of military-grade surveillance devices that are commonly referred to as “stingrays.” The devices are used by police and other government agencies in Illinois.

The equipment mimics cellphone towers and allows law enforcement to track the movements of anyone nearby with a cellphone. The numbers of people’s incoming and outgoing calls and text messages are also captured.

In addition, the federal government encourages and funds the technology at the state and local level throughout the nation.

The American Civil Liberties Union has identified 68 agencies in 23 states that use cell site simulators that gather phone usage data on targets of criminal investigations, as well as data from innocent cellphone users. The advocacy group says the Illinois State Police and local police, including the Chicago Police Department, use the simulators.

The new Illinois law requires law enforcement to get a warrant before switching on a simulator. Police are also required to delete within 24 hours any data from the general public not part of an investigation.

Law enforcement is also forbidden to block or intercept phone calls, internet use or text messages.

Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, said the law approved during the 2016 regular session is intended to strike a balance between the benefits of the tracking technology and privacy protections of the public.

“It is important that we take steps to enable police to effectively investigate and solve crimes using the latest technology, but it is equally important that we protect innocent people from unnecessary and unwarranted invasions of their privacy,” Biss said in previous remarks.

Illinois is one of about a dozen states to outlaw the use of eavesdropping technology unless it is part of a criminal investigation.

States that include California, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and Washington already impose rules on the use of eavesdropping technology.

State legislators in states such as Missouri, New Hampshire and South Carolina are also looking to either adopt new rules or strengthen existing polices on use of the equipment.

In South Carolina, multiple bills cover their use. H3286 calls for ending existing programs used in the state and prohibits new programs.

A similar bill, H3285, would prohibit law enforcement agencies from purchasing the devices from companies that require non-disclosure agreements. One more bill, H3263, would prohibit state and local police from entering into confidential agreements with federal agencies to use cell-site simulators without obtaining warrants.

One New Hampshire bill, HB171, would prohibit the state from assisting the federal government in the collection of a person’s electronic data without consent or a warrant.

In Missouri, a bill would require law enforcement agencies in the state to get a warrant before using stingrays to assist the feds.

State law already requires authorization from a court before intercepting oral and wire communications.

SB84 also specifies that law enforcement must immediately destroy any data incidentally collected not mentioned in the warrant. All data collected must also be destroyed within 30 days if there is no evidence of a crime related to the data.

An unrelated law in Illinois also in effect as of the New Year doubles fines for failure to stop at rail crossings. First offenses would result in $500 fines, and subsequent violations would cost $1,000.

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