Tallahassee, Florida – On June 3 a Florida judge ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union, forcing the release of new documents related to police use of “stingray” cell phone tracking technology.
The ruling deals with a case where Tallahassee police used stingray to locate a suspected rapist’s apartment without first getting a warrant. When the police officer involved in tracking the suspect testified in court, the federal government stepped in to demand secrecy, the court obliged, closed the hearing and sealed the transcript. After the ACLU asked the judge to unseal the court transcript based on constitutional First Amendment access to court proceedings, the government attempted to invoke national security privilege by invoking the Homeland Security Act.
The ACLU was able to convince the judge to release the transcript, providing more details about the law enforcement tool that was first revealed last Summer by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The Stingrays work by mimicking a cellphone tower and tricking cell phones into registering their location and other identifying information with the device rather than cell phone towers in the area.
The new documents confirm that cell phones can be tracked as long as the phone is on, whether or not you are making or receiving calls. Also, the stingrays force cell phones to send data to the device “at full signal, consuming battery faster.” For an activist or journalist a constantly dying battery could be a sign that you are being tracked.
The court transcript also reveals a case where the police drove around with a vehicle-based stingray until they located the apartment complex where their suspect was staying. Upon locating the complex the officers switched to a handheld device and went to “every door and every window in that complex” until the phone transmitting the signal was located. A police officer testified that as far back as 2007 the device were being used. He estimated between Spring of 2007 and August 2010 the police used the stingrays around “200 or more times.”
These latest details fill in the gaps regarding the United States’ governments growing obsession with spying on it’s own citizens. With the revival of the Domestic Extremism Task Force and the news that the Obama Administration is fighting the release of information about Stingrays, it is obvious the government views it’s citizens as worthy of constant surveillance and scrutiny.