Texas aims to limit controversial "stingray" phone-tracking tech

Because it's considered a matter of "national security," many won't talk about the controversial phone-tracking technology. Texas doesn't care about that and wants due process to come first.

Cell-phone tracking stingray devices can fit in a small suitcase. (Image: Harris)

Two bills in Texas aim to limit the use of a shadowy device, which critics argue can indiscriminately collect vast amounts of cellphone users' data.

The "stingray" technology, otherwise known as a cell-site simulator, can grab crucial data from a suspect's smartphone. The public knows very little about how the suitcase-sized box works, except that it can track cellphones and smartphones, grab data, and intercept phone calls and messages.

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But legislators, both in the state and further afield, are none the wiser as to how the technology actually works.

That's because the FBI has forced local law enforcement officials to sign a non-disclosure agreement with the stingray's maker.

The FBI has called the technology (and its surrounding secrecy) a matter of "national security."

That's prompted members in both houses of Texas' state congress to introduced bills aimed at curbing the use of the controversial gadget by making its use without a warrant illegal.

Texas house bill HB 3165 relates to "warrants issued to obtain cell site information through the use of a cell site simulator device," and has been referred to the state's affairs committee. A corresponding bill in the state's senate, SB 942, equally aims to limit cell-site simulator technology from being used without a warrant.

Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston), who introduced the bill, only wants stingrays to be used when there has been a warrant issued based on probable cause.

Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) said it was "perfectly reasonable for law enforcement to obtain a warrant before using the information captured by the stingrays in an investigation," according to a report in the Star-Telegram.

The bill, first introduced into the state's legislature on March 11, is slated to be scheduled for a public hearing.