Washington Law Review


Legislative Solutions to StingRay Use: Regulating Cell Site Simulator Technology Post-Riley

October 22, 2015 | 91 Wash. L. Rev. 1355

Abstract: In Riley v. California, the United States Supreme Court held that law enforcement must generally obtain a warrant before searching the contents of an individual’s cell phone. However, Riley did not address whether the warrant requirement extended to cell phone metadata, e.g. non-content information such as location information. This gap creates uncertainty as to whether law enforcement officers must obtain a warrant to use Cell Site Simulators, a portable technology that mimics a cell tower to get location information metadata from cell phones. Law enforcement has justified the warrantless gathering of cell site information under the third-party doctrine, which provides that there is no Fourth Amendment-protected privacy interest in information made available to a third party such as a phone service provider. Riley did not explicitly address the warrant requirement in the context of metadata. And until recently, post-Riley circuit courts were split on whether a warrant is required for metadata. A legislative resolution of this uncertainty is thus useful, both to safeguard individual privacy and to provide clear but not overly restrictive rules for law enforcement. This Note will address what legislative solutions states have pursued, and the benefits and shortcomings of each option.

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