DHS OIG Report: Secret Service and ICE Illegally Used Cell-Site Simulators

March 3, 2023

A report by the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General (DHS OIG) revealed that the United States Secret Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (ICE HSI) illegally used cell-site simulators without a court order to obtain real-time cell phone device locations. Cell-site simulators mimic cell phone towers, causing cellular devices within their range to connect so that the operator can identify phones in a location and intercept messages. The DHS OIG found that the Secret Service and ICE HSI had not always obtained a court order prior to deploying cell-site simulators because they incorrectly interpreted statutory requirements and agency policies governing their use. Further, the DHS OIG found that ICE HSI did not adhere to the statutory policy requirements to conduct a privacy impact assessment (PIA) prior to deploying cell-site simulators. 

EPIC has long advocated for a prohibition on warrantless use of cell-site simulators. In 2012, EPIC sued the FBI and obtained the release of more than 4,000 pages of documents about the use of cell-site simulators called “Stingrays”. The documents obtained by EPIC revealed that the FBI used the devices to monitor cell phones without a warrant, and provided Stingrays to other law enforcement agencies. Following objections by Senator Grassley, the FBI restricted Stingray use.

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