(The Washington Post) -- mThe chairman and ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee want answers from the Obama administration on cell-site “simulators,” which are reportedly used by law enforcement to track suspects but also have the potential to capture information on cellphones in their vicinity.In a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, Sens. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, asked about federal policy and the usage of the simulators.
“The Judiciary Committee needs a broader understanding of the full range of law enforcement agencies that use this technology, the policies in place to protect the privacy interests of those whose information might be collected using these devices, and the legal process that DOJ and DHS entities seek prior to using them,” the senators wrote in the letter dated Dec. 23 and released Wednesday.
The senators cite a November article from the Wall Street Journal that reported the Justice Department is targeting criminal suspects using the devices, which mimic cellphone towers and can also snag information and general phone locations of innocent Americans.
While not confirming or denying the existence of such a program, a Justice Department official told the paper that agencies comply with federal law, including by seeking court approval, and that discussion of such matters would allow suspects or foreign powers to determine U.S. surveillance capabilities.