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Media Calls Out Prosecutor for Apparently Not Understanding Stingray Use

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

You need thick skin to be a criminal prosecutor, but when complicated technology comes at you hard, you have to grow a new layer.

So it is for Joseph Alioto, a federal prosecutor in an attempted murder case pending in Oakland. After a tricky hearing that involved Stingray technology, Alioto had to deal with media reports that he didn't know what he was talking about.

In an age of fast-developing technologies, it's a question every lawyer will face: How does this thing work, anyway?

Stung by Technology

It may be hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but law tech is required reading in the internet age. "Stingray," as featured in United States v. Ellis, is a chapter in cell-phone surveillance.

It is a cell-site simulator that intercepts cell phone communications independently from the cell phone company, explained Scott Joiner, an Assistant United States Attorney working on the case.

Joiner bailed out Alioto after the prosecutor suggested the suspect's mobile phone company had to activate the technology. That's not how it works, Ars Technica reported.

The surveillance tool has come under increasing scrutiny by lawmakers, courts and others in recent years because of privacy concerns. The Department of Justice and the State of California, for example, typically require warrants to use it.

Criminals, Immigrants and You

While law enforcement has used the technology for some time, immigration officials are also using it now. Rudy Carcamo-Carranza found out the hard way.

He's a twice-deported restaurant worker; well, until he was busted. Now he's a defendant in a criminal case and soon-to-be, thrice-deported.

Carcamo-Carranza didn't know immigration investigators were using Stingray to find him. It tricked his cell phone to reveal his location in Detroit, and ba-da-boom he's on his way to El Salvador.

Writing for the Atlantic, Alvaro Bedoya says surveillance technology is not used just on immigrants. "Surveillance of immigrants has long paved the way for surveillance of everyone," he says.

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