Advances in emerging surveillance technologies like cell-site simulators – devices which transform a cell phone into a real-time tracking device – require careful evaluation to ensure their use is consistent with the protections afforded under the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The United States’ military and intelligence agencies have developed robust and sophisticated surveillance technologies for deployment in defense against threats from foreign actors. These technologies are essential to keeping America safe. Increasingly though, domestic law enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels are using surveillance technologies in their every-day crime-fighting activities. In the case of cell-site simulators, this technology is being used to investigate a wide range of criminal activity, from human trafficking to narcotics trafficking, as well as kidnapping, and to assist in the apprehension of dangerous and violent fugitives.
Cell-site simulator technology provides valuable assistance in support of important public safety objectives. Whether deployed as part of a fugitive apprehension effort, a complex narcotics investigation, or to locate or rescue a kidnapped child, cell-site simulators fulfill critical operational needs. As with any law enforcement capability, the Department must use cell-site simulators in a manner that is consistent with the requirements and protections of the Constitution, including the Fourth Amendment, and applicable statutory authorities, including the Pen Register Statute. Moreover, any information resulting from the use of cell-site simulators must be handled in a way that is consistent with the array of applicable statutes, regulations, and policies that guide law enforcement in how it may and may not collect, retain, and disclose data.