ICE Confirmed to Use Stingrays for Making Deportation Arrests

Posted on May 25, 2017

According to a new piece in The Intercept, at least one instance of Immigration and Customs Enforcement utilizing a cell-site simulator as part of a deportation arrest has been confirmed. The cell-site simulator, an invasive cell phone surveillance device more commonly known as a “stingray,” was used in March of this year by ICE agents in Michigan to locate a target for arrest.

Although the use of the stingray, along with the seizure of evidence facilitating its use, is legal within the jurisdiction in which it was used and was employed in conjunction with a proper search warrant, the use of such a powerful surveillance tool is concerning. A stingray works by posing as a cell tower and forcing any cellular devices within range to connect to it and transmit their subscriber information, which can then be used to uniquely identify the device’s owner. Some more sophisticated stingray models can even intercept and modify data sent to or from the target device. 

By nature of a stingray’s methods for locating targeted individuals, because there are upwards of 12 million undocumented immigrants who could be subject to enforcement action by ICE, the sensitive data of potentially tens of millions of innocent Americans could be captured and stored in the process of using a stingray to locate them. Moreover, the deployment of stingrays by ICE represents a serious escalation in the use of these devices. Traditionally, stingrays have been utilized for the purposes of locating especially dangerous criminals, such as murderers or high-level drug traffickers, serving as a tool of last resort for law enforcement. In the case in Michigan, the subject of the arrest was suspected of comparatively minor crimes, drunk driving and a hit-and-run incident, so the fact that ICE saw fit to deploy tools as powerful and invasive as a stingray for offenses such as these sets a worrying precedent for the lengths the agency is willing to go to to carry out its mission. 

You can read the full piece from The Intercept here.