If your phone has dropped a call or lost service while you were in Anaheim, it might seem like it is logical to blame Disneyland. More than 16 million people visit Anaheim every year as part of their journey to Disneyland. Combine that with the three million residents of Orange County, and at any given time, cell phone traffic in Anaheim can be extremely heavy.
However, a recent discovery by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) revealed a far more insidious problem with cell phone coverage around the Magic Kingdom. The Anaheim Police Department has been using plane-mounted surveillance equipment to intercept cell signals and record trackable data from phones, all without having first obtained a search warrant.
Digging for Dirt with “Dirtboxes”
The ACLU obtained documents showing the Anaheim Police Department’s indiscriminate use of Digital Receiver Technology, Inc.’s (DRT) equipment mounted on planes patrolling the skies above Orange County. DRT boxes (also known as “Dirtboxes”) are forms of stingray, which are phone signal intercept devices used by the military, intelligence agencies and the FBI.
These devices are used to mimic cell phone towers, and more often than not, the signal emitted by a Dirtbox is strong enough to force phones to disconnect from a service provider’s cell site and establish a new connection with the Dirtbox. In 2013, Anaheim’s Chief of Police approved upgrades to the equipment, allowing Anaheim police to track signals carried on LTE networks, which carry the traffic of millions of smartphones each day.
The result is millions of cell phone users unwittingly connecting with a government surveillance device and unknowingly disclosing private information to the Anaheim Police Department and other Orange County police agencies that leased the devices from Anaheim PD.
The FBI claims that stingrays are programmed to recognize 911 calls and hand them off to a real cell tower, but it is virtually impossible to account for the number of interruptions of non-emergency calls made to police departments, fire departments and medical first-responder teams every day.
Unwarranted Searches Violate the Law
The U.S. Department of Justice requires federal agencies to obtain a search warrant before they can intercept and record data using a Dirtbox or stingray. Until recently, there was no such requirement made of state and local law enforcement agencies. In 2015, the California legislature and Governor Jerry Brown came together to pass California’s Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The act closed the local law enforcement loophole by amending California Penal Code section 1546.1 to prohibit the government from gaining access, without a warrant, to electronic communications devices “by means of physical interaction or electronic communication with the electronic device.”1
In other words, absent special circumstances such as an emergency involving danger of death or serious injury, the government may not access your smartphone without a warrant or your consent. Therefore, if the police access the information illegally, it cannot be used in a court against you. Doing so is a violation of your constitutional rights, and grounds to challenge any conviction resulting from the use of such information.
Contact a Wallin & Klarich Defense Attorney for Help
If the police are attempting to use illegally obtained electronic communication information against you, you have the right to engage the services of a skilled and experienced attorney to challenge the use of that information. At Wallin & Klarich, our attorneys have over 30 years of experience successfully defending people facing criminal charges in Anaheim. Let us help you, too. Contact us today for a free, no obligation phone consultation.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney near you no matter where you work or live.
Call us today at (888) 280-6839 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.
1 Cal. Pen. Code § 1546.1