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The New York Civil Liberties Union is pushing a new state bill that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant prior to deploying a cell-site simulator, or stingray.

The bill also includes other new restrictions.
Cell-site simulators, or fake cell towers, are often used by police to locate criminal suspects by tricking their phones into giving up their location.
In some cases, simulators can also be used to intercept phone calls and text messages. Use of these devices has been heavily scrutinized in recent years—in September 2015, the Department of Justice said it would require its federal agents to seek a warrant before deployment.
The proposed law was inspired by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California’s successful efforts in 2015.

The New York law was introduced in 2016, but it didn’t get far. New York Assembly Bill 1895 was re-introduced on January 13, 2017 but hasn’t had any hearings as of yet.

To become law, the bill would have to pass the Assembly and the state Senate before being signed by the governor.
The bill, which was first reported by ZDNET, doesn’t mention stingrays specifically. However, it specifically forbids law enforcement from accessing “electronic device information by means of physical interaction or electronic communication with the device” unless they have a warrant.

There are a few narrow exceptions, such as exigent circumstances.
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The bill has been supported by a number of tech companies and advocacy organizations, including Dropbox, Facebook, Yelp, and others.

“It heightens the awareness of privacy rights and the need to have state protections around these issues,” Rashida Richardson, an NYCLU attorney, told Ars.
In March 2015, the NYCLU won a lawsuit forcing the Erie County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) to hand over documents concerning the purchase and use of stingrays.

The organization also passed a similar bill in Connecticut.
“After the election, it is more important than ever that states take the lead in updating privacy protections,” a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told Ars by e-mail.
She went on:

The New York legislation would bring the law up to date so that privacy safeguards long in place for physical documents would apply in the online world as well.

And it would ensure that when law enforcement agents want to use invasive new surveillance technologies such as stingrays, they do so only after they’ve obtained a warrant.

Neither the New York State Law Enforcement Officers Union nor the Police Benevolent Association of New York State immediately responded to Ars’ request for comment.

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