New York police have used stingray surveillance technology to monitor citizens’ mobile device activity over 1000 times during the past seven years without the need to obtain a warrant, according to a civil liberties group.
Responding to an FOIL request from the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), the NYPD revealed it used stingrays “nearly 1016 times” between 2008 and May 2015.
What’s more, the police department has no written policy on the use of such technology but instead relies on a “pen register order” prior to use.
The NYCLU claimed that this type of court order does not protect civil liberties in the same way as a warrant as it only requires the police to prove the information is “relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation” of a crime they think has been or is about to be committed.
This is in contrast to a warrant, which requires the police to establish probable cause.
NYCLU said that the Department of Justice last year issued a policy to seek warrants rather than pen register orders unless in exceptional or emergency circumstances.
However, it emerged last January that the FBI uses stingray technology without a court order if it is deployed in a public place “at which the FBI deems there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.”
“If carrying a cell phone means being exposed to military grade surveillance equipment, then the privacy of nearly all New Yorkers is at risk,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU, in a statement.
“Considering the NYPD’s troubling history of surveilling innocent people, it must at the very least establish strict privacy policies and obtain warrants prior to using intrusive equipment like stingrays that can track people’s cell phones.”
So-called stingrays mimic mobile phone base towers, allowing the police to locate specific devices/users and intercept communications including their content.
More worrying for privacy activists is that the technology can grab data from nearby bystanders as well as the target, and its use can go on without the involvement of the mobile operator.
In May last year a NYCLU FOIL request revealed hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars had been spent on surveillance technology by New York State police, the group claimed.
In December it was revealed that the Feds even use zero day exploits where necessary to gain access to the computers of “persons of interest.”