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The FBI says it needs to be allowed to spend $10 million a year to combat international terrorism until at least 2021 but Senator Rand Paul called on the bureau to start with $25 million instead.
In a letter to FBI Director James B. Comey on Friday, the Kentucky Republican said the bureau should start “sales” for a new high value surveillance tool — the Stingray, which operates like a cellphone signal jammer.
“I believe it is important to be given tools and resources to identify and counter current and emerging threats to the homeland which are not exclusively, or even primarily, Islamist or Islamic in nature,” Paul wrote.
While the technology that the FBI sells to federal, state and local agencies was used in the Boston Marathon bombing, an FBI spokesman told The Washington Post that it “is not likely to be used in the Boston event” and would not make that distinction.
“I think it would be inappropriate for us to make a judgment based on an incomplete or misleading picture of who is using these programs and how they’re being used,” the spokesman said.
The FBI’s Stingray has a number of disadvantages. The device can’t be used to track cellphone users, and there are very few federal laws governing Stingray use. In other words, the program is legal if only federal officers or government employees use it.
The program has come under scrutiny after reports that law enforcement agencies have been using the devices to listen to conversations held by Americans, and even obtain the content of those communications. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has challenged various versions of the Stingray to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) in the Northern District of California. The court ruled last year that police may use the devices to conduct “a variety of investigatory activities,” which “tend to increase the likelihood of discovering evidence pertinent” to the target of the search.
The ACLU has also questioned the constitutionality of the program. In its challenge to the Stingray in a federal court, the organization argued that the government may use the technology to track “any electronic communication of any class” — including private conversations held in the home — without a warrant.
“Using the Stingray, an informant might be able to eavesdrop on private conversations between the targets of surveillance and their co-conspirators. To this end, the Stingray would
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