House Oversight Chairman Previews New Report on Federal ‘Stingrays’

Chaffetz said members want more details on the Trump Organization's plans. (Rob Kunzig/Morning Consult)

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said Wednesday that his panel will soon issue a report on the federal government’s use of simulated cell phone towers, also known as “stingrays.”

“You’d be shocked — shocked — at what your federal government is doing to gather your personal information,” the Utah Republican told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute.

Chaffetz was at AEI to discuss his committee’s latest report on a series of wide-ranging cyberattacks against the Office of Personnel Management from 2012 to 2015, which saw the personal information of 22.1 million Americans with ties to the federal government stolen by hackers.

The probe found that the hacks occurred because of OPM leaders’ repeated failures to heed inspector general warnings that its cybersecurity infrastructure was lacking. The committee report also found that OPM leaders failed to implement basic, required security controls and deploy high tech anti-hacking tools once it became evident that hackers had penetrated their databases.

Chaffetz said that his committee’s upcoming report on the federal collection of personal information through “stingrays” has even more outrageous findings. “They can’t keep it secure. That’s the point,” he said. “I don’t trust them, they’re not doing the basics, and they want to collect more data.”

The Utah Republican has long expressed skepticism about the use of stingrays by federal, state, and local law enforcement. Chaffetz introduced a bill prohibiting the government use of the fake cell-phone towers to locate and track individuals through intercepted cellular data last November. In a statement accompanying the bill’s introduction, Chaffetz said the government use of stingrays “could enable gross violations of privacy.”

That bill, which is also supported by Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), never advanced. Another bill, introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) in Feb. 2015, would require law enforcement to get a warrant before tracking suspects through stingrays. It has also stalled.

Opposition to the law-enforcement use of stingrays may be brewing in other corners of the federal government. A complaint filed to the Federal Communications Commission on Aug. 16 asked the agency to bring an enforcement action against the Baltimore Police Department for its unauthorized use of licensed spectrum while tracking suspects with the simulated cell-phone towers.

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