California police using secret anti-terrorism, phone-tracking tech for ‘routine police work’

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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California police departments have begun using secret anti-terrorism technology capable of tracking data from every cellphone in a given area to do “routine police work.”

“Stingray” technology collects real-time data from all cellphones within a given radius. Seven police departments in Northern California have adopted it, with two more receiving grants to purchase the tech in 2014, California’s News10 reports.

Although numerous departments responded to the station’s public records requests, none would go so far as to disclose how exactly the technology works, or go into detail about every type of data it collects. What is known is that signals from phones within the device’s range are automatically bounced to local law enforcement, where officers can see “names, phone numbers, locations, call records and even text messages.”

A grant application submitted by the San Jose police department inadvertently identified several other departments in the state currently using Stingray when it asked for feedback from units already deployed, which include the Oakland and Los Angeles Police Departments, the Sacramento, San Diego, and Los Angeles Sheriff’s Departments, U.S. Marshal’s Service and a redacted agency.

“We will work with the Fusion Center to partner with San Francisco and Oakland to ensure we have the ability to cover all of the Bay Area in deploying cellphone tracking technology in any region of the Bay Area at a moment’s notice,” a grant application submitted to Bay Area Urban Area Shield Initiative in 2012 said.

All of the grant applications cited terrorism as the reason for requesting money for the tech, and departments including Fremont, Oakland, San Jose and the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office said Stingray could be used to protect “critical infrastructure” by disrupting terrorist networks.

However arrest records from Oakland and Los Angeles indicate Stingrays are being used for average policing far outside the realm of terrorism.

Oakland’s Targeted Enforcement Task Force made 21 “Electronic Surveillance [StingRay] arrests” in 2007, 19 in 2008, and 19 in 2009 for charges including robbery, kidnapping, attempted murder and homicide. Further records show employees receiving up to 40 hours in training on the technology.

Despite the grant and arrest records already obtained, Oakland police would not admit to having a Stingray, and San Francisco police claimed they were unable to find records in regard to the tech. The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department also refused to comment on their purchase.

“While I am not familiar with what San Jose has said, my understanding is that the acquisition or use of this technology comes with a strict non-disclosure requirement,” Sacramento Undersheriff James Lewis said in a statement. “Therefore it would be inappropriate for us to comment about any agency that may be using the technology.”

Oakland and Fremont police along with the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office submitted an application in 2014 that was recently approved for a joint Stingray they will operate together.

According to partners cited by News10, there are at least 25 local police departments across the country also using Stingray, with others refusing to comment as a result of signing non-disclosure agreements with Harris Corporation, which sells the technology.

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