From The Wall Street Journal:
Local law-enforcement agencies are buying cellphone-tracking equipment that is cheaper and smaller than earlier systems, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, but it isn’t always clear whether court orders are needed to use the devices.
The systems, which go by trade names such as “Jugular” and “Wolfhound,” are handheld and sometimes come with antennas so small they can be attached to clothing, according to public documents. The gadgets cost only a few thousand dollars each—far less than more sophisticated systems, and well within the reach of many local agencies.
“It’s extremely affordable and literally fits in your hand,” said Scott Schober, the president of Berkeley Varitronics Systems Inc., which makes the Wolfhound and several other cellphone and Wi-Fi detection systems.
“Dozens of state and local agencies … had likely purchased this type of phone-locating equipment”
The use of the devices to help locate specific cellphones, like many new types of surveillance, is cloaked in secrecy. The Journal contacted dozens of state and local agencies that had public records indicating they had likely purchased this type of phone-locating equipment. Some didn’t respond. All others said they couldn’t provide information on the devices, including the legal procedures the department follows before using them.
“We can’t disclose any legal requirements associated with the use of this equipment,” said Elise Armacost, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Police, which purchased Jugular and Trachea devices from KEYW Corp., according to the records. “Doing so may disclose how we use it, which, in turn, interferes with its public-safety purpose.”
The tools are a reminder that surveillance technology is changing rapidly, becoming more accessible to smaller law-enforcement departments and presenting a challenge to lawmakers and civil-liberties advocates. More than a dozen states have recently passed laws limiting the use of location-tracking tools, for instance by requiring warrants for cellphone tracking except in emergency situations.
Unlike other cellphone-tracking methods, these covert devices might not require court orders under current federal laws, said Orin Kerr, a former federal prosecutor and law professor at George Washington University. That’s because the Jugular and similar devices passively gather radio waves emitted whenever the phones communicate with a cell tower, according to public documents and people familiar with such tools. The other tracking procedures involve more active and intrusive surveillance, such as recording routing data sent by a phone.