Stingray Use by Law Enforcement More Prevalent than Previously Thought



By Cheri Roberts of Challenging the Rhetoric and Cheri Speak 

The not-so-new Stingray [cell-site simulator or IMSI-catcher] tracking device is making news again. USA Today conducted an investigation into [Baltimore’s] use of Stingrays and found it is being used far outside the realm of looking for terrorist activity and instead is being used to track everyday criminals. USA Today found this was happening in other cities across the country pointing out Stingray use by law enforcement was more prevalent than previously thought or disclosed.

In one case after another, USA TODAY found police in Baltimore and other cities used the phone tracker, commonly known as a stingray, to locate the perpetrators of routine street crimes and frequently concealed that fact from the suspects, their lawyers and even judges. In the process, they quietly transformed a form of surveillance billed as a tool to hunt terrorists and kidnappers into a staple of everyday policing.” ~ USA Today, Brad Heath

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, at least 42 law enforcement agencies in 17 states own Stingray technology.


Graphic Stock license

The device, made by, Harris Corporation, can cost up to $400K and law enforcement agencies are scooping them up under the guise of fighting “terrorism”. This fat briefcase sized tool requires State authorities to sign a non-disclosure with the FBI (like this one) in order to purchase them.

Some highlights of the language in Baltimore’s non-disclosure:

In order to ensure that such wireless collection continues to be available for use by the law enforcement community, the equipment/technology and any information related to its functions, operation,and use shall be protected from potential compromise by precluding disclosure of this information to the public in any manner including by not limited to: in press releases, in court documents, during judicial hearings, or during other public forums or proceedings.
The Baltimore Police Department will not publicize its purchase or use of the Harris
Corporation equipment/technology or any of the capabilities afforded by such
equipment/technology to the public, other law enforcement agencies, or other
government agencies, including, but not limited to, in any news or press releases,
interviews, or direct or indirect statements to the media.
In the event that either the Baltimore Police Department or the Office of the State's
Attorney for Baltimore City receives a request pursuant to the Freedom of Information
Act (5 U.S.C. 552) or an equivalent state or local law, the civil or criminal discovery
process, or other judicial, legislative, or administrative process, to disclose information
concerning the Harris Corporation wireless collection equipment/technology, its
associated software, operating manuals, and any related documentation (including its
technical/engineering description(s) and capabilities), the Baltimore Police Department
will immediately notify the FBI of any such request telephonically and in writing in order
to allow suf?cient time for the FBI to seek to prevent disclosure through appropriate

Can Ya Hear me Now?


Graphic Stock license

Stingrays literally track cell phones; they don’t just gather data from them.

Stingrays do not discriminate, if your phone is near one your data is their’s. It sweeps-up data from every phone in the vicinity of one of their cell-site simulators. Like license plate readers, they are able to gather all of that data in mere seconds as as noted in the excerpts above, the FBI and Harris Corporation doesn’t want you to know anything about it.

When Stingrays first made headlines, we were already numbed to the prevalence of spying by Ed Snowden’s disclosures. Hearing about Stingrays was just another “thing”, but the pervasiveness of government’s reach inside our lives via our electronic devices cannot be denied.


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14 responses to “Stingray Use by Law Enforcement More Prevalent than Previously Thought

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