Cell phone tracking technology could soon be more closely regulated in Illinois to protect privacy. Law enforcement officials said that’s fine as long as crime victims are not put in jeopardy.

Law enforcement use cell-site simulator devices, commonly known as Stingrays, to get information from cell phones by mimicking a cellular tower. A measure awaiting the governor’s signature would allow the police to locate a suspect's phone only after obtaining a warrant. The police would then have to delete innocent bystanders’ information once the search is finished.

Ed Yohnka, the director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said these devices are too powerful to be left unchecked.

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“This is a powerful technology that can be used to become a tool of mass surveillance without the appropriate sort of checks or balances in terms of the way it’s used,” Yohnka said.

Yohnka said newer versions of the device can retrieve more than just location information. He said the device can download content such as websites visited and text messages.

The federal government already has rules in place similar to the proposed legislation.

“If these limitations are good enough for the FBI, they’re good enough for the Peoria Police Department,” Yohnka said.

Illinois Association of Police Chiefs Legislative Committee Chair Patrick O’Oonnor said the police should have the ability to find a missing victim.

“What we don’t want is language so restrictive so that we can’t gather cell tower pinging to locate victims’ phones,” O’Connor said. “When you can’t articulate that a crime took place to get a warrant, but you know there’s a safety risk to the victim. We’re looking more toward victim phones.”

O’Connor says the association dropped its opposition to the measure after lawmakers allowed for emergency uses of the device.


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