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FAQ about law enforcement’s use of cell site simulators

On Behalf of | Sep 23, 2022 | Criminal Defense

Cell phone records often provide location information that law enforcement might use in crime investigations.

Law agencies recently began using cell phone simulators to improve the accuracy of location data. However, some have concerns about the legality of these devices and the data collected.

What are cell site simulators?

A cell site simulator is a small electronic device used by law enforcement. This equipment mimics cell signal towers and can collect location information from cellular devices within a specific range.

How does law enforcement use these devices?

When activated, the device forces all cell phones within the area to disconnect from the cell provider’s service tower and connect with the simulator. Law enforcement can then see which cell phones are in a small geographical area, such as a single building. Investigators might use the data collected by the device to track wanted individuals, identify the location of those affiliated with people of interest, and find missing people.

What regulations must law enforcement follow to use cell phone simulators?

Since cell phone simulators collect information on all devices within range, new laws have attempted to prevent data misuse. According to these laws, law enforcement must have warrants to use the devices and have 24 hours to delete all data unrelated to the warrant.

What concerns do people have about data collected from simulators?

When law enforcement uses data collected from these devices as evidence against an offender, some people may question whether they obtained the information legally. Data recorded as a result of a warrant issued for a different investigation might be inadmissible in court.

While data collected from cell phone simulators can be beneficial when legally obtained, knowing the legal restrictions of these devices can protect everyone from privacy violations.