Chaffetz seeks to criminalize warrantless data collection

Legislation being introduced on Monday would make it illegal for agencies to use fake cell towers that vacuum up cell phone data over a wide area without a warrant.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, is introducing the Cell-Site Simulator Act. Under draft text of the bill provided to the Washington Examiner, collecting metadata with a device known as a stingray would require a warrant. Violations would be punishable by a fine and up to 10 years in prison. The bill would exempt emergencies that include an "immediate danger of death," national security or that fall under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Lawmakers have tossed around ideas for such a law, but Monday's proposal is the first one filed. It follows an admission last week from Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen that his agency uses cell-site simulators, which harvest telephone data by mimicking cell phone towers in some investigations.

"What it does is primarily allow you to see point-to-point where communications are taking place. It does not allow you to overhear — the technique doesn't — voice communications," Koskinen said.

However, some of the devices do allow for the collection of voice communication, even if the "technique" referenced by Koskinen precludes it. Additionally, critics note, the devices do not work in a targeted manner. In order to collect data from one target, the devices must collect data from all of the cell phones in the area, even from those who are not suspects in an investigation.