On Aug. 1 2016, a Louisiana law went into effect requiring a court order for the use of “stingrays” to track the location of phones and sweep up electronic communications. The new law will not only protect privacy in the state, but will also hinder one aspect of the federal surveillance state.
Rep. Kenneth Havard (R-Jackson) introduced House Bill 254 (HB254) last spring. The legislation blocks the use of cell site simulators, known as “stingrays.” These devices essentially spoof cell phone towers, tricking any device within range into connecting to the stingray instead of the tower, allowing law enforcement to sweep up communications content, as well as locate and track the person in possession of a specific phone or other electronic device.
Under the new law, police must obtain a court order before using a stingray device in most cases.
The legislation passed trough both houses of the Louisiana legislature with no dissenting votes. The House initially passed HB254 88-0. The Senate passed an amended version of HB254 by a 38-0 vote. The amendments clarified some language in the bill and included a provision to allow third parties served with court orders to disclose them to their attorney even when a gag order is in place replied. The House unanimously concurred with the amendments 92-0.
The requires law enforcement to delete any information incidentally captured on people not named in the court order, and to delete any information of metadata collected from a target within 35 days if there is no probable cause to support the belief that such information is evidence of a crime.
The law does provide for a narrow set of exceptions during “exigent circumstances.” Even then, police must get a court order within 72 hours. The law includes other exceptions to the court order requirement, including searches for missing persons. lost phones, locating parole violators and other reasonable purposes.
Under the old policy, police in Louisiana could track cell phone locations and even listen in to conversations with no restrictions or limitations. Passage of HB254 constitutes a major improvement over the status quo.