The number of state and local police departments using the unconstitutional “Stingray Tracking devices” is up to 23 states and 60 local agencies.
Stingray devices – when used properly – mimic a cell tower and force all phones in range to link to them. The user then is able to extract data, location information and communication from the cellphone.
At first, the technology was in the exclusive hands of the military, then federal agencies like the FBI and the IRS began to use the devices in their investigations.
It’s very simple to use. One simply parks their car (or police cruiser) on the street corner and activates the unit. It sends out a signal that’s stronger than surrounding cell towers, so phones are fooled into linking with the device. Police then have their pick of which phone to download data from – or all of them.
With the endorsement and financial support of Homeland Security, local and state law enforcement got their hands on these devices. But with one caveat: Don’t tell anyone.
That police use – let alone even have – the devices is supposed to be a complete secret. In one court case in 2014, Tallahassee police tracked and arrested a criminal suspect using a Stingray. When the court wanted to know how police found the individual, police refused to answer. The judge ordered a response but only got one after clearing the courtroom and sealing the record.
In 60 local police agencies and 23 states, the ACLU has determined the Stingray is in use. It may be – and likely is – in use in other areas, but because it’s “top secret,” it’s difficult to tell. Here’s a map of the states that use the Stingray.
The Blaze spoke to an ACLU representative about the Stingray. Nathan Wessler called it a “very invasive and concerning technology.”
Calling it a “quite indiscriminate search,” Wessler shared one of the “particularly concerning things” about how Stingray technology is being used by local law enforcement: “Even when they are trying to track a particular suspect’s phone, the technology works by sweeping in data from countless bystander phones in the area — it’s really a dragnet.”
He explained how the system worked, basically mimicking a cell tower and getting phones in the area to send a signal with a unique identifying serial number.
“We often describe it as the kids’ pool game ‘Marco Polo,’” Wessler explained, adding, “The Stingray yells ‘Marco’ and every phone in the area yells back, ‘Polo, I’m phone 1-2-3-4-5-7-8.’”
“These devices are not just sending signals out into public spaces, but also sending signals that transmit through the walls of homes and other constitutionally protected areas,” Wessler said.
Speaking about law enforcement’s secrecy cloaking the use of the cellular data scanning technology, Wessler told TheBlaze, “I’ve never seen this kind of dynamic with any other kind of law enforcement surveillance technology.”
He explained further: “Every time a state or local police agency wants to buy one of these devices from a private corporation … the FBI forces the police department to sign a very strict non-disclosure agreement.”
Inside the FBI’s non-disclosure agreement are specific limitations forbidding the local police departments from revealing the purchase or use of the device to the public to judges to defense attorneys and in court hearings, according to the ACLU.
Wessler added, “Incredibly, they have to promise that if a judge is about to order them to actually answer questions and reveal information, they have to be willing to either dismiss the prosecution outright or get rid of it some other way, like offering a sweet plea deal.”