July 16, 2014 at 11:20 pm

Lawmaker introduces bills to regulate cellphone trackers in Michigan

Cellular tracking devices used by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office could come under state regulation if lawmakers pass two bills introduced Wednesday.

State Rep. Tom McMillin introduced House Bills 5710 and 5712 seeking regulation, oversight and penalties regarding the use of military-style surveillance devices such as Hailstorm, the device owned by Oakland County.

McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, has been investigating the use of the secretive technology and says the bills are the result of his findings.

“Laws have not kept up with technology and now that law enforcement is using military-style surveillance devices, we need to update our laws to ensure our citizens’ privacy is protected,” said McMillin, who is running for the 8th District congressional seat in next month’s Republican primary against former state Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop.

Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Hailstorm, a technology from Florida-based defense contractor Harris Corp., is believed to be an upgrade of Stingray, a suitcase-sized contraption that is installed in cars and masquerades as a cell tower to trick nearby phones into connecting with it and providing data to police.

The first bill would require law enforcement officials to obtain a specific warrant before using a tower simulator device.

The bill also would require police to notify mobile users not specifically named in the warrant if their data was collected within 30 days.

The second bill would create a state oversight board regarding how surveillance technology is used by law enforcement agencies. The board’s job would be to update regulations as new technology and upgrades emerge.

This bill has specific penalties for misuse of the technology, putting in place the same guidelines that govern the state’s Law Enforcement Information Network, which is maintained by Michigan State Police.

An initial violation would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in jail and a $500 fine; repeat offenses would be felonies punishable by up to four years in prison and a $2,000 fine.

Shelli Weisberg, legislative director for the Michigan branch of the ACLU, said the bills provide much greater oversight.

“We think it’s a really good first step in trying to get some oversight in law enforcement’s use of these devices that have really previously only been used in military settings,” she said.

In March, The Detroit News reported that Oakland County is one of about two dozen entities nationwide — and the only one in Michigan — with the $170,000 machine.

So little is known about Hailstorm that even national experts will only speculate about its capabilities.

Oakland County, like other agencies, obtained Hailstorm using money from a U.S. Homeland Security Department grant. The defense contractor that developed the technology, Harris Corp., requires police agencies to sign nondisclosure statements.

McCabe has declined to comment about the capabilities of the device, saying it would jeopardize security. However, he has staunchly denied any spying, data mining or phone tapping.

“Law enforcement using Hailstorm has claimed they are getting warrants and no one is misusing the technology, so I would assume they will fully support this legislation,” McMillin said.