Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) on Monday introduced the Stingray Privacy Act to prevent federal, state and local government agencies from using the briefcase-sized devices without a warrant.
The Stingray devices are also known as IMSI-catchers and cell-site simulators. They mimic cellphone towers in order to pick up identifying waves from people’s phones that contain information about their contacts, text messages and other data.
“The abuse of Stingrays and other cell-site simulators by individuals, including law enforcement, could enable gross violations of privacy,” Chaffetz said in a statement on Monday.
Reps. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) had signed on as original co-sponsors, he said.
Mounting scrutiny of the government’s often-secret use of Stingray devices has prompted outrage from civil liberties advocates. Agents using the devices can pick up reams of data from unsuspecting targets, critics say, including bystanders who are not being intentionally targeted.
“The fact that law enforcement agencies, and non-law enforcement agencies such as the IRS, have invested in these devices raises serious questions about who is using this technology and why,” Chaffetz said. “These questions demonstrate the need for strict guidelines that carry the weight of the law.”