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The Constitutionality of Using Cell-Site Simulators

According to the Department of Justice Policy Guidance: Use of Cell-Site Simulator Technology (Sept. 3, 2015), a cell-site simulator “function[s] by…

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According to the Department of Justice Policy Guidance: Use of Cell-Site Simulator Technology (Sept. 3, 2015), a cell-site simulator “function[s] by transmitting as a cell-site tower” as a means of remotely acquiring the “identifying information from cellular devices,” though not, according to the Guidelines, “emails, texts, contact lists, images or any other data from the phone.” The government appears to closely guard any information it derives from the use of this device. In fact, it issued a memorandum agreement in 2013 stipulated to dismiss cases rather than disclose use of a cell-site simulator. As discussed below, the accuracy of the Guidelines with respect to the scope and type of data a cell-site simulator can cull were also called into question in a dissenting opinion by the chief judge of federal appeals court. To that end, in 2016, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request showed that the Virginia State Police used a cell-site simulator to capture not only GPS location and metadata, but also voice communication.

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