Amid all the revelations about NSA surveillance of cell phone records, email traffic, and even online video games, police forces across the country have been quietly undertaking their own surveillance programs with very little public notice.
An investigation by Gannett looked into the practices of 125 police agencies in 33 states. They discovered that at least 25 of the agencies own a portable device called a Stingray, which acts like a fake cell phone tower and can scoop up data from cell phones within about a mile-wide range without users’ knowledge.
CBS affiliate WISH-TV News 8 in Indianapolis reports that the Indiana state police are among the agencies using the device. State police would not comment, but a private investigator explains that the cell phone numbers and text messages the system collects could prove useful in criminal or terrorism-related cases.
Police would not comment to WISH about whether they seek a search warrant before retrieving cell phone data. It’s a scenario civil liberties experts find worrisome.
“We’re in an era where technology is far outstripping our legal mechanisms for dealing with it,” says Sheila Kennedy, a law professor and former director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union.
USA Today reports that many of the $400,000 Stingray devices owned by police agencies were paid for by federal counter-terrorism grants.