Last month, it was alleged that the Internal Revenue Service had been using Stingray devices to track people by scraping their phone metadata. Now, it’s admitted as much — and gone so far as to say that it wants another of the units, too.
The Stingray devices, used by the FBI, act as mobile phone tower simulators, allowing their users to interrogate metadata transmitted across the network. Now, in a letter sent from the IRS Director John Koskinen to Ron Wyden in response to his questions, the Service admits that it “possesses one cell-site simulator, procured in October 2011”.
The use of the device is said to be “limited to the federal law enforcement arm of the IRS”, but so far its trained agents have tracked 37 mobile devices for 11 different federal grand jury investigations. The organisation has also used the device to assist in four other non-IRS investigations: one federal investigation by the Drug Enforcement Agency and three state investigations into a murder, an attempted murder and a gun trafficking case.
In fact the IRS is making such good use of the device that it wants to buy another. According the letter, the Service began procuring an additional Stingray device in July 2015 but as of November 25 it had yet to be delivered.
For now, though, the IRS explains it’s taking a brief break from using the systems. At least, until it has appropriate documentation in place:
On September 3, 2015, the Department of Justice issued [a document] requiring federal agencies to obtain a search warrant supported by probable cause prior to using the technology except in exigent or exceptional circumstances… The IRS… [is] currently drafting a policy which will be issued by November 30, 2015. It has not used this technology since the issuance of the DOJ policy, and has placed a hold on its use until the new policy is issued.
Maybe by that time the second unit will have arrived.