Md. bill would limit cellphone tracking by police

WASHINGTON — A bill that would put rigid limitations on how police in Maryland use cellphone-tracking devices is making its way through the House of Delegates.

The devices, known as stingrays, mimic a cellphone tower and trick phones into connecting with them. It allows law enforcement to track suspects by determining what phones are in the area and where the are located.

“It is a search, and it triggers our Fourth Amendment rights,” said bill sponsor Delegate Charles Sydnor Thursday during testimony in front of the House Judiciary Committee.

“The Fourth Amendment of the United State Constitution states that people have a right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

The bill would force police to obtain a search warrant to track a suspect using the technology. It would require police to explain exactly what kind of technology they are using, the geographic area in which it’s being used, and the type of data they plan to collect. It would also force police to take “all steps necessary” to limit collection of data and permanently delete data that was not specified in the warrant.

The bill has support from both Democrats and Republicans.

“Across the country, you are seeing bipartisan response to this,” said Sarah Love, public policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

Opponents of the bill, such as police and prosecutors, claim the bill is overkill, saying stingrays are a valuable crime-fighting tool.

“We never hear your voice, we can’t look at your contact list, we don’t look at your call logs, the equipment doesn’t even have the capability of doing that,” Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger told the committee.

The ACLU says 60 law enforcement agencies in 23 states and D.C. use the cellphone-tracking technology.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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