The Tacoma, WA Police Department has for years been quietly using controversial surveillance equipment that can collect records of all cellphone calls, text messages and data transfers within a half-mile radius, according to Al Jazeera America.
The Stingray surveillance system, deployed by the Tacoma Police Department since 2009, “tricks cellphones into thinking it’s a cell tower and draws in their information,” The Olympian reported.
The device is reportedly capable of indiscriminate data collection, which worries civil rights advocates.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said it has identified at least 43 police departments in 18 states that use Stingray equipment. The rights group said on its website that police use of such a device may violate the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment, and with taxpayers’ money.
"The result is that police gather the electronic serial numbers and other information about phones, as well as the direction and strength of each phone's signal, allowing precise location tracking,” the ACLU said. “Stingrays can also gather information about people's communications, such as which phone numbers they call. Because we carry our cellphones with us virtually everywhere we go, Stingrays can paint a precise picture of where we are and who we spend time with, including our location in a lover's house, in a psychologist's office or at a political protest."
Tacoma Police Department’s Assistant Police Chief Kathy McAlpine said that officers only use Stingray with permission from a judge, and that they do not collect data.
“It is used in felony-level crimes to locate suspects wanted for crimes such as homicide, rape, robbery, kidnapping, and narcotics trafficking,” McAlpine said.
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