Reprinted from The Guardian
Police could be vacuuming up telecommunications in a neighborhood near you.
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Local police around the country are increasingly using high-tech mass surveillance gear that can vacuum up private information on entire neighborhoods of innocent citizens -- all to capture minor alleged criminals. Even worse, many cops are trying to put themselves outside the reach of the law by purposefully hiding their spying from courts to avoid any scrutiny from judges.
Two important news reports from the last week have shed light on the disturbing practices, and new technology that's never been previously reported. The first investigation, done by USA Today's Brad Heath, found: "In one case after another ... police in Baltimore and other cities used the phone tracker, commonly known as a stingray, to locate the perpetrators of routine street crimes and frequently concealed that fact from the suspects, their lawyers and even judges."
Stingrays facilitate a particular controversial and invasive form of surveillance, where the police essentially own a roving, fake cell phone tower that force all the cell phones in its vicinity to connect to it. They then vacuum up the cell phone data of their suspect, as well as that of potentially hundreds of innocent citizens. Police departments have previously claimed they would only use it in "emergencies," but as predicted by nearly everyone, those vows have almost immediately went out the window once they got their hands on the technology.
Stingrays are so controversial that some state legislatures have already passed laws restricting their use -- which is exactly why police want to keep it secret. Police and the FBI have claimed extreme secrecy is needed to prevent alleged criminals from finding out about how they use the devices, but they are so well-known at this point that they've been featured in virtually every major newspaper in the country. The real reason they want to keep them secret is to protect them from judges ruling their use illegal, as well as from state legislatures cracking down on them.