Records Show ATF Uses Stingrays To Track Americans

New records have shown that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is using stingrays to track Americans. The Project for Privacy and Surveillance Accountability (PPSA) announced this week that it obtained the records after it filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the ATF in February 2021.

“The information released by the ATF confirms the agency is indeed utilizing stingray technology,” PPSA said. “Although the agency attempted to minimize the usage of stingrays, it is clear they are being widely used against Americans.”

Stingrays are invasive cell phone surveillance devices that imitate cell phone towers and send out signals. They largely bait cell phones in the area to transmit their locations, sharing information in the process. The technology gathers information from the phones of countless bystanders in the vicinity of the tracked device.

While the PPSA has not published the obtained documents, it has described the content of some of the files.

“The ATF stressed that stingrays are not precise location trackers like GPS, despite the plethora of information stingrays can still provide,” the organization said. “Answers to questions from the Senate Appropriations Committee about the ATF’s usage of stingrays and license plate reader technology are entirely blacked out in the ATF documents we received.”

PPSA added that the ATF policy discreetly uses these devices without the knowledge of its targets. The documents also revealed that the agency does not disclose the usage of the device to suspects even when it is relevant to their legal defense.

However, PPSA said it will continue to track stingray usage and report the responses it receives to its FOIA requests with various federal agencies.

The stingray issue isn’t new and there were reports of its use among government agencies. In 2021, the FBI used the controversial stingray technology, primarily used to locate smartphones, as a car tracking surveillance device to spy on vehicles’ onboard WiFi.

The FBI filed an application to use the Stingray in Wisconsin in May 2021 to locate a vehicle – a Dodge Durango Hellcat – believed to be used by a man indicted for firearms possession crimes and drug dealing.

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