Illinois law limits police cellphone spying

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, August 05, 2016

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

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law a bill to regulate the use of military-grade surveillance devices used by police and other government agencies in Illinois that go by names that include “Hailstorm” and “Stingray.”

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.

The American Civil Liberties Union has identified 66 agencies in 24 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.

Previously SB2343, the new 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.

The legislation passed through the statehouse with unanimous consent.

Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, said the law 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 prepared remarks.

The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2017.

Illinois is one of about a dozen states to outlaw the use of eavesdropping technology unless it is part of a criminal investigation. The federal government is also considering stricter guidelines.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Illinois, click here.

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