(credit: André Gustavo Stumpf)
The New York Police Department used cell-site simulators, better known as stingrays, over 1,000 times between 2008 and May 2015 without first acquiring a warrant, according to new public records obtained by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU).
According to the NYCLU, this marks the first time that the nation’s largest police department has admitted to using the notorious surveillance technology. The NYPD does not have a written policy for stingray use. Police records show that while stingrays were mostly used in investigations of serious felonies—homicide, assault, kidnapping, drug trafficking, rape—they were also used for investigating money laundering and ID theft.
Stingrays are in use by both local and federal law enforcement agencies nationwide. The devices determine a target phone’s location by spoofing or simulating a cell tower, and mobile phones in range of the stingray connect to it and exchange data with it as they would with a real cell tower. Once deployed, the devices intercept data from the target phone along with information from other phones within the vicinity—up to and including full calls and text messages. At times, police have falsely claimed that information gathered from a stingray has instead come from a confidential informant.
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