Michigan Legislature to Address Cell Phone Tracking Devices Used by Police
"State Rep. Tom McMillin is holding a legislative oversight committee meeting Tuesday to discuss a secretive cellphone tracking device being used by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.
McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, has invited Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist and senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union, to testify.
He will be joined by Brian Owsley, a former U.S. Magistrate Judge for the southern district of Texas.
Owsley is one of a few judges who have fought the use of cellphone tracking devices. In 2012, Owsley denied a Drug Enforcement Administration request to use use a Stingray device to track a suspected drug dealer, citing concerns over what information could be collected and from whom.
[']The cell-site location records at issue here currently enable the tracking of the vast majority of Americans['] Owsley wrote in his opinion.
[']Thus the collection of cell-site location records effectively enables ‘mass’ or ‘wholesale’ electronic surveillance, and raises greater Fourth Amendment concerns. ...[']
Soghoian and Owsley will explain the technology behind the secretive cellphone tracking devices called Hailstorm and Stingray, how they have been developed and used in the past, and the legal implications as to their use and the rights of citizens whose information is collected or stored.
Last month, The Detroit News reported on Oakland County’s use of Hailstorm in an investigative series. McMillin, who is running for the 8th District congressional seat, called the hearing in response to the story.
[']I’m hoping to begin to understand and help the rest of the Legislature understand how our citizens are being surveilled. We’re not going to know everything, but I think we’re going to get the top experts in the nation to talk about the capabilities.[']
In its investigation, The News found that the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office is one of about two dozen forces nationwide — and the only one in Michigan — with the $170,000 machine.
So little is known about Hailstorm that even national experts will only speculate about its capabilities.
The technology from Florida-based defense contractor Harris Corp. is believed to be an upgrade of Stingray, a suitcase-sized contraption that is installed in cars and used to trick nearby phones into connecting with it and providing data to police.
The technology can track fugitives and find missing children, but privacy advocates said they worry because similar machines can collect data from innocent smartphone users.
Harris sells the device to police agencies and requires them to sign nondisclosure statements. Oakland County, like other agencies, obtained Hailstorm using money from a U.S. Homeland Security Department grant.
Undersheriff Michael McCabe says Hailstorm is a tool that helps in police work and can be used only with a search warrant. It is not, he said, a device for spying on people.
[']We’ve got to have our laws catch up with our technology,['] said McMillin.
[']I have no problem with law enforcement using the technology to catch bad guys, but we have to have our eyes open to the implications for everyone else.[']
The hearing will be open to the public at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday in Room 326 of the House Office Building, 124 N. Capitol in Lansing.
McMillin says ultimately he wants to craft legislation that would create penalties for improperly using such devices.
Nobody from the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office is expected to attend."