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Taking the Sting Out of the Stingray: The Dangers of Cell-Site Simulator Use and the Role of the Federal Communications Commission in Protecting Privacy & Security
Federal Communications Law Journal (2016)
  • Jason G. Norman, The George Washington University Law School
The Stingray is a cellular tower emulator technically known as an IMSI
catcher. This emulation capability allows law enforcement, or anyone with
the technical expertise, to capture cellular data in transit to or from any
cellphone within the Stingray’s broadcast range, entirely without the person’s
knowledge or consent. This note argues that the Federal Communications
Commission should enact regulation under its Title II authority requiring
cellular service providers and device manufacturers to enhance their
encryption protocols pursuant to recommendations established by the
Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability committee, which
released its final report in early 2015. Additionally, the FCC should mandate
that SIM card manufacturers enable consumer access to already existing
security options, which are, as of this writing, permanently disabled during
manufacture. This will enable security conscious consumers to more
effectively protect their private communications against eavesdropping or
theft. This action will help to secure the national wireless infrastructure by
adding a stronger layer of cybersecurity to protect against crimes such as
identity theft, corporate espionage and against warrantless searches
conducted in violation of the Fourth Amendment which are becoming
increasingly frequent. In many cases, law enforcement use of this equipment
violates existing FCC regulations prohibiting the use of particular broadcast
technologies. These security enhancements would not compromise national
security or decrease the effectiveness of law enforcement, and can be done in
compliance the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act as
well as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Taking these first
essential steps toward a more secure wireless infrastructure will serve the
interests of both privacy and national security by preventing wireless voice
and data communications from being easily accessible over the airwaves by
widely available interception equipment.
  • stingray,
  • surveillance,
  • civil rights,
  • privacy law,
  • criminal law,
  • fourth amendment,
  • department of justice,
  • illegal search,
  • illegal seizure,
  • due process violation,
  • warrantless search,
  • IMSI Catcher,
  • cell-site simulator,
  • telecommunications law,
  • FCC
Publication Date
Spring February 17, 2016
Citation Information
Jason Norman, [i]Taking the Sting Out of the Stingray[/i], 68 Fed. Comm'n L.J. 139 (2016)
Creative Commons license
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons CC_BY-NC International License.