Implications of Stingray-like Technology on Criminal Defense

Reports indicate that the FBI is under scrutiny for allegedly trying to prevent police departments from discussing the capabilities of "Stingray" technology during court proceedings. Opponents of the FBI's stance accuse the FBI of preventing police officers in Maryland and other states from revealing information about the capabilities of the mobile device dragnet technology by making them sign non-disclosure agreements. However, what some see as the FBI subverting the course of justice to protect technology that is viewed by many as questionable, some criminal defenseattorneys see as literal "get out of jail free" cards for their clients.

"Stingray" is only one brand name for the mobile information capture systems used by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, but the name has come to stand for the technology itself. While much is unknown about the technology, it is believed that the devices act as cellphone towers and have the ability to capture the information that travels through them. This ability may result in the capture of the content of cellphone conversations, text messages and possibly even data transmission.

Law enforcement agencies in a number of states are believed to be using this technology, and, in some cases, it has resulted in evidence that has been presented in criminal court proceedings. However, when judges or defense attorneys have questioned the way in which the evidence was obtained, the police have refused to answer, citing NDAs that they were forced to sign by the FBI. In some cases, charges have actually been dismissed or reduced via plea agreements in order to prevent the disclosure of details about how the technology works and its capabilities.

There are several different ways in which a Maryland resident can view the use of "Stringray" technology. Some view its use as a clear invasion of Americans' Fourth Amendment rights, while others view it as a way of helping to keep the country secure. Others, including criminal defense attorneys who are aware of the doors the use of the technology can open, see it as a way to have their clients' cases dismissed or a way to secure plea agreements on their clients' behalves.

Source:, "Stingray spying: FBI's secret deal with police hides phone dragnet from courts", Jessica Glenza & Nicky Woolf, April 10, 2015