A newly disclosed FBI document related to the deployment of cellphone tracking and interception devices known as “stringrays” reveals the bureau instructed local police departments seeking such devices to keep them secret from the public.
Stingray devices connect to local cell towers and collect real-time data from all cellphones within a given radius to intercept names, phone numbers, locations, call records, text messages and other private cellphone data. The device masks itself as a tower, and tricks phones into transmitting information directly.
The Florida-based Harris Corporation manufacturers the devices for purchase by police, who must coordinate with the FBI in order to secure a device for local use. The technology was originally intended to act as a counterterrorism information-gathering tool, but has been used in increasing frequency for “routine police work” since deployment. (RELATED: California Police Using Secret Anti-Terrorism, Phone-Tracking Tech For ‘Routine Police Work’)
A police department in Tacoma, Washington was the most recent law enforcement entity publicly outed for using and concealing a stingray — including from town officials who approved its purchase. (RELATED: Police In Washington State Have Been Secretly Intercepting Cellphone Traffic For Years)
The document in question obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request by Mudrock is a letter sent in 2012 from the FBI to Tacoma PD instructing the department to complete a non-disclosure agreement before acquiring and using the device — a stipulation set down by the Federal Communications Commission.
Four of the letter’s six pages related to the agreement were entirely redacted.
The Hill reports that stingrays have been in use since at least 1995, and are currently deployed by at least 43 agencies in 18 states.
The ACLU recently lost a court request for documents pertaining to the use of stingray tech in a Florida police department. A state circuit judge was forced to throw out the request in June after U.S. Marshals unexpectedly seized the documents from the department in question and physically carried them hundreds of miles away. (RELATED: After Feds Snatch Documents From Police Station, Judge Throws Out Phone Spying Case)