A bill has been introduced in Congress that aims to control the use of the sophisticated surveillance equipment known as Stingray, following a Guardian investigation which revealed the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as the 13th federal agency known to possess the devices.
Stingrays are one of a class of suitcase-size devices known as “cell-site simulators”, which work by pretending to be a cellphone tower in order to strip data and metadata from any phones which connect to them.
They are used by at least 13 federal agencies, and at least 50 local and state police departments, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. A Guardian investigation in April uncovered the non-disclosure agreement that local police departments were forced to sign with the FBI before using Stingrays, which mandated local prosecutors to throw cases in some instances rather than reveal that they used the devices. In October, the Guardian reported that the IRS acquired Stingray technology for undisclosed reasons.
On 29 October, three days after the investigation was published, Representative Jason Chaffetz, the chair of the House oversight committee, along with the rest of the committee, sent a bipartisan letter to IRS commissioner John Koskinen demanding documents detailing the agency’s guidelines, policies and use of the devices.