According to a judicial ruling issued Tuesday, the Erie County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) in Northwestern New York state must turn over a number of documents concerning its purchase and use of stingrays. The 24-page order comes as the result of a lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and marks a rare victory in favor of transparency of “cell-site simulators,” which are often shrouded in secrecy.
The devices can not only be used to determine a phone’s location, but they can also intercept calls and text messages. During the act of locating a phone, stingrays also sweep up information about nearby phones—not just the target phone. Earlier this year, Ars reported on how the FBI is actively trying to “prevent disclosure” of how these devices are used in local jurisdictions across America.
“The court today has confirmed that law enforcement cannot hide behind a shroud of secrecy while it is invading the privacy of those it has sworn to protect and serve,” Mariko Hirose, a NYCLU Staff Attorney, said in a statement. “The public has a right to know how, when and why this technology is being deployed, and they deserve to know what safeguards and privacy protections, if any, are in place to govern its use.”
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