Stingray phone tracker

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A stingray is a controversial[1] electronic surveillance device for remotely capturing data from mobile telephones.[2] It mimics a cell tower so all the mobile phones in the area communicate with it and provide information, including location data. This can be done even when the phone is not being used to make a call.[2][3] Critics have called the use of the devices by government agencies warrantless cell phone tracking, as they have frequently been used without informing the court system or obtaining a warrant.[1] The Electronic Frontier Foundation has called the devices “an unconstitutional, all-you-can-eat data buffet.”[4] A stingray can be carried by hand or mounted on a vehicle, such as an unmanned aerial vehicle.[3] The devices are also referred to as "cell site simulators" and "IMSI-catchers". The Harris Corporation is a leading manufacturer of stingrays and produces several of the devices.[5] Harris Corporation has trademarks registered between 2002 and 2008 on the StingRay, StingRay II, AmberJack, KingFish, TriggerFish and LoggerHead.[2] The devices are sold by the Wireless Products Group.[6]


The use of the devices has been frequently funded by grants from the Department of Homeland Security.[7] The Los Angeles Police Department used a Department of Homeland Security grant in 2006 to buy a stingray for "regional terrorism investigations". However, according to the Electronic Freedom Foundation, the "LAPD has been using it for just about any investigation imaginable."[8]

The increasing use of the devices has largely been kept secret from the court system and the public. In 2014, police in Florida revealed they had used such devices at least 200 additional times since 2010 without disclosing it to the courts or obtaining a warrant.[1] The American Civil Liberties Union has filed multiple requests for the public records of Florida law enforcement agencies about their use of the cell phone tracking devices.[9]

Local law enforcement and the federal government have resisted judicial requests for information about the use of stingrays, refusing to turn over information or heavily censoring it.[10] In June 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union published information from court regarding the extensive use of these devices by local Florida police.[11] After this publication, United States Marshals Service then seized the local police's surveillance records in a bid to keep them from coming out in court.[12]

In some cases, police have refused to disclose information to the courts citing non-disclosure agreements signed with Harris Corporation.[10] The ACLU has said "potentially unconstitutional government surveillance on this scale should not remain hidden from the public just because a private corporation desires secrecy. And it certainly should not be concealed from judges."[1]

In December 2013, USA Today conducted an investigation into the use of stingrays in the US.[13] The investigation of more than 125 police agencies in 33 states showed about one in four law-enforcement agencies have done a "tower dump", which gives them information about the identity, activity and location of any phone near the targeted cellphone towers. Additionally, at least 25 police departments own a stingray. In some states, the devices are made available to local police departments by state surveillance units. The federal government funds most of the purchases with anti-terror grants. Thirty-six more police agencies refused to say whether they own or use the devices and most of them refused to comply with submitted public records requests.[13]

News10 in California identified nine agencies that own or are buying stingray devices: Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, Fremont Police Department, Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Oakland Police Department, Sacramento Sheriff’s Department, San Diego Police Department, San Francisco Police Department, and San José Police Department.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Zetter, Kim (2014-03-03). "Florida Cops' Secret Weapon: Warrantless Cellphone Tracking". Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  2. ^ a b c Valentino-Devries, Jennifer (2011-09-22). "'Stingray' Phone Tracker Fuels Constitutional Clash". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2011-09-22. 
  3. ^ a b Valentino-DeVries, Jennifer (2012-10-22). "Judge Questions Tools That Grab Cellphone Data on Innocent People". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2012-11-06. 
  4. ^ Timm, Trevor (2013-02-12). "As Secretive "Stingray" Surveillance Tool Becomes More Pervasive, Questions Over Its Illegality Increase". Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  5. ^ Miller, Carlos (2014-03-12). "Company Producing Spy Gear for Cops Calls Cops on PINAC for Recording Facilities from Public". Photography is Not a Crime. Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  6. ^ Sullivan, Bob (2012-04-03). "Pricey 'stingray' gadget lets cops track cellphones without telco help". NBC News. Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  7. ^ Police use cellphone spying device "Police use cellphone spying device". Associated Press. 2014-05-30. Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  8. ^ Campbell, John (2013-01-24). "LAPD Spied on 21 Using StingRay Anti-Terrorism Tool". LA Weekly. Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  9. ^ Wessler, Nathan Freed. "U.S. Marshals Seize Local Cops' Cell Phone Tracking Files in Extraordinary Attempt to Keep Information From Public". American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  10. ^ a b Gillum, Jack (2014-03-22). "Police keep quiet about cell-tracking technology - Yahoo News". Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  11. ^ Wessler, Nathan Freed (2014-06-03). "Transcription of Suppression Hearing (Complete)". American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  12. ^ Zetter, Kim (2014-06-03). "U.S. Marshals Seize Cops' Spying Records to Keep Them From the ACLU". Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  13. ^ a b Kelly, John (2014-06-13). "Cellphone data spying: It's not just the NSA". USA Today. Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  14. ^ Bott, Michael; Jensen, Thom (2014-03-06). "9 Calif. law enforcement agencies connected to cellphone spying technology". News10. Retrieved 2014-06-23.