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SAN FRANCISCO — In 2011 federal prosecutors were working with magistrate judges in the Northern District to resolve concerns about the government’s use of sophisticated surveillance technology known as a stingray to track people using their cellphone signals.

The problem, as described in an email from Criminal Division chief Miranda Kane, involved agents’ use of stingray devices, also known as WIT or triggerfish, without obtaining specific permission from the court. Such devices, which simulate a cell tower, can be placed in a van and driven anywhere in order to pinpoint the location of wireless devices like cellphones or broadband Internet cards.

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