The New York Police Department has admitted to using controversial cell phone spying systems known as Stingrays — which can be used to track the location and intercept personal communications of nearby mobile phone users. In a report from the New York Civil Liberties Union, the NYPD confirmed using the Stingray more than 1000 times between 2008 and May 2015.
The NYCLU report is just the latest evidence in a string of cases where police departments across America invaded people’s privacy without their consent or knowledge. Both Baltimore and Chicago police departments have admitted to using the device, but those two cities are in the minority.
US police departments are often forced to sign nondisclosure agreements when purchasing a Stingray, which prevents the agencies from acknowledging or speaking about the device. The FBI argues that criminals and terrorist could possibly circumvent the technology if more information was widely available about how it’s being used.
For the uninitiated, Stingrays are surveillance devices that act like mobile phone towers in order to connect to phones nearby. The device persistently pings your smartphone until it finally connects to the fake mobile phone tower. Once a mobile phone is connected, the police can use it to track a person’s location without consent, and in some configurations, the Stingray can also intercept personal communications between two mobile phones.
The NYPD disclosed that it has no written policy for the use of Stingrays in its response to NYCLU’s Freedom of Information Law request. In order to use one, an officer typically files for a court order rather than filing for a warrant. The reason the agency has chosen this avenue is because the legal standard for warrants is probable cause, which is difficult to prove. The requirement for a court order, however, is simply establishing information is “relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation” of a crime that the agency reasonably suspects has been committed. So don’t look suspicious. Or better yet, just stay as far off the grid as you possibly can.
Top image via AP