On the Washington Examiner.
A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers is demanding to know how widespread the use of warrantless surveillance is within the Obama administration, after it became known that the Internal Revenue Service has quietly been using "cell-site simulator" technology to collect data from unsuspecting people.
In a Monday letter to all 24 federal agencies, the leaders of the House Oversight Committee said it wants to know which other agencies are using this technology, commonly known as "Stingray" technology that poses as cell phone towers. It was spearheaded by committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, R-Md.
In addition to targeting agencies like the Department of Agriculture, The Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the letter singled out Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. Specifically, it asked for all information about "DOD grants and the total amount of money disbursed by DOD to state or local law enforcement agencies to obtain cell-site simulation technology," essentially asked how many local law enforcement agencies around the country have leased the technology from the DOD.
Privacy advocates oppose the technology because, in addition to collecting information from suspects, it also collects information from unwitting bystanders. Officials are able to use what is known as a "PEN register" to obtain authorization for their usage, which is not subject to the same probable cause standards required under a regular warrant.
The Department of Justice implemented a policy in September that suggested agents should try to use a warrant when circumstances allow. The Department of Homeland Security implemented a similar policy in October. However, the policies are self-imposed, and penalties are administrative in nature.
To date, open record requests have identified 13 agencies that use the devices. An open records request reported by The Guardian last month uncovered the Internal Revenue Service as the latest agency using them. The revelation provoked Rep. Chaffetz to propose legislation that would impose a criminal penalty on agents who wrongfully use the devices without a warrant in the future.
The letter, which was co-signed by IT Subcommittee Chairman Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Ranking Member Robin Kelly, D-Ill., asked for all documents related to the use of Stingray technology by any agency.
"So that the committee can better understand U.S. Department of Defense's use, if any, of cell-site simulation technology, please provide the following documents as soon as possible, but no later than 5:00 p.m. on November 23, 2015," it said.