Evidence gathered by a cell-site simulator that allows police to identify the location of cell phones is suppressed because it violates the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches
United States v. Lambis, 2016 BL 222804, S.D.N.Y., No. 15cr734, 7/12/16.
A federal district court suppressed evidence gathered after police used a cell-site simulator, sometimes referred to as “StingRay.” The device creates a simulated cell signal that connects with nearby cell phones, much like a cell tower. Through the device, law enforcement can collect the name and numbers of cell phones connected to the device as well as know what text messages or incoming and outgoing calls are being made. In this case, however, the StingRay was used to track the exact location of a cell phone of someone during an investigation. By calculating the strength of the single, DEA agents were able to find the location of the cell phone and its owner.
In making this ruling, the court held that the use of the StingRay equipment used to find the defendant in his apartment was an unreasonable search because the cell phone location would not have been available otherwise. The court compared this case to the thermal-imaging device used in Kylio v. United States, where the Supreme Court found the equipment violated the Fourth Amendment. There, “the Court reasoned that distinguishing between ‘off-the-wall' observations and ‘through-the-wall surveillance' would ‘leave the homeowner at the mercy of advancing technology—including imaging technology that could discern all human activity in the home.” Like the thermal-imaging device, the StingRay is not in use by the general public, leading the court to rule that “[a]bsent a search warrant, the Government may not turn a citizen’s cell phone into a tracking device.”