The Ohio chapter of the National Lawyer's Guild is warning downtown visitors and residents as well as activists about the use cell site simulators during the Republican National Convention.
"This summer at the RNC, it's practically a foregone conclusion that StingRays will be in use whether by the Cleveland Division of Police or the FBI or the Secret Service or whomever," said Jacqueline Greene, a civil rights attorney and member of the guild who cites the high security level of the RNC as reason enough for police to use the devices.
The FBI, Cleveland Police and the Secret Service would not confirm or deny to NewsChannel 5 that they will be using the simulators, commonly known by their brand name, StingRay. The devices, which are small enough to fit into a suitcase, record any and all cell phone conversations and gather text messages within about a half mile radius. They also pinpoint one's location.
"They operate as setting themselves up as a spoof to cell phone towers," said a local tech expert who has studied cell site simulators for the past four years. He wanted to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of his security job.
"This is a problem because StingRays are used in excessive secrecy," added Greene. "Police use SingRays, and they do so to conduct indiscriminate searches."
Federal, state and local investigators have been known to use cell site simulators to track suspects in criminal cases. They have also been known to be used by police during protests to gather intelligence. Greene said most of the work is down without a search warrant.
"Our rights under the Fourth Amendment, our rights to privacy, our rights against unreasonable searches and seizures are being violated on mass scales," she added.
The American Civil Liberties Union has tracked the use of cell site simulators by state and local police in 19 states. It is unknown whether any law enforcement has used the devices in Ohio.
The Department of Justice has this policy posted online about its use of such simulators: https://www.justice.gov/opa/file/767321/download
There are ways to determine if a simulator may be used in your area, according to the tech expert. A sudden decrease in battery power and signal strength are two indicators.
He recommended downloading the encryption app, "Signal," to protect information on one's phone.
The guild said it will be investigating the use of cell site simulators during the RNC if there are widespread violations of people's constitutional rights.
without a search warrant as they have the power to capture a lot of information at once.