The NYPD has used cell-site simulators, commonly known as Stingrays, more than 1,000 times since 2008, according todocuments turned over to the New York Civil Liberties Union. The documents represent the first time the department has acknowledged using the devices.

The NYPD also disclosed that it does not get a warrant before using a Stingray, which sweeps up massive amounts of data. Instead, the police obtain a “pen register order” from a court, more typically used to collect call data for a specific phone. Those orders do not require the police to establish probable cause. Additionally, the NYPD has no written policy guidelines on the use of Stingrays.

Stingrays work by imitating cellphone towers. They force all nearby phones to connect to them, revealing the owners’ locations. That means they collect data on potentially hundreds of people. They are small enough to fit in a suitcase, or be mounted on a plane.

When they were originally developed in 2003, Stingrays were designed for military use. But in the past decade, they have increasingly been purchased by law enforcement agencies. According to the ACLU, Stingrays are used by at least 59 police departments in 23 states, and at least 13 federal agencies, including the DEA, FBI, and the IRS. Because most departments withhold information about Stingrays, these numbers likely underrepresent the total.

In December, The Intercept published a secret U.S. government catalogue of cellphone surveillance technology, including Stingrays and “dirt-boxes.” The advertisements boast that many of the items can spy on “up to 10,000 targets.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.