New York Stingray Use - April, 2015

New York Stingray Use

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) brought suit against the Erie County Sheriff’s Office in Buffalo, to compel compliance with a FOIA request relating to Stingray use.  The Stingray device, as described in the NYCLU report, is a “cell site simulator, a briefcase-sized surveillance device that allows the police to spy on cell phones in the area by mimicking a cell phone tower.  Stingrays allow the police to pinpoint a person’s location, collect the phone numbers that a person has been texting and calling and, in some configurations, intercept the contents of communications.”

In March 2015, a judge ordered disclosure of the requested documents, which included purchase orders, a confidentiality agreement between the Sheriff’s office and the FBI, and summaries of usage of the surveillance device.

The NYCLU found that the Sheriff’s office used the technology [the office has two Stingray devices] at least 47 times between May 2010 and October 2014; the Sheriff’s office only obtained a court order regarding use of the device in one instance.  The confidentiality agreement the Sheriff’s Office had with the FBI required the Office to maintain almost total secrecy about the technology, including in court filings and responses, unless the FBI provided prior authorization.  Also, pursuant to the agreement, the Sheriff’s office was obligated to seek dismissal of criminal prosecutions if needed to maintain secrecy.

The NYCLU also sought information from the New York State Police concerning how often the device was used, information about policies for use, whether or not warrants were sought for use, and what happened to information of innocent persons collected during use of the technology.  The New York State Police responded that it had no records relating to the use of the Stingray device, no records of policies for use, no information relating to the number of times the device was used, and no information about how many times judicial approval was sought.

Sources: and  Related:  Criminal Defense Newsletters, Feb. – March, 2015, Vol. 38, Issues 5 – 6, p. 5; March, 2014, Vol. 37, Issue 6, p. 20; Feb. – March, 2013, Vol. 36, issues 5 – 6, p. 10

Baltimore Police Use
Stingray-Type Surveillance Device

A Baltimore Police detective testified in an April 8, 2015, court hearing that the Baltimore Police owned and used a Hailstorm device -- a more modern version of the stingray surveillance technology -- 4,300 times since 2007.  The detective, a member of the Baltimore Police Department’s Advanced Technical Team, said he used the device between 600 to 800 times within the prior two years.

Local police departments using the device are prohibited from disclosing information about it due to nondisclosure agreements with federal law enforcement authorities, which, according to a recent article, “explicitly instructs prosecutors to drop cases if pressed on the technology, and tells them to contact the FBI if legislators or judges are asking questions.”  The article quoted a defense attorney in Baltimore who asked the detective if the nondisclosure agreement “instruct[s] [him] to withhold evidence from the state's attorney and Circuit Court, even upon court order to produce?" The detective answered “yes,” and he refused to bring the device to court.

In this particular case in Baltimore, the police used the hailstorm device to look for a certain Verizon cell number.  The article states that user information from every Verizon customer in the area was swept up and collected, but was not seen, the detective said.

The article noted that Baltimore Police obtain the information with a “pen register” order from a judge, which allows only calls to and from a specific cell number to be collected; no metadata is collected.

Source:  Justin Fenton, “Baltimore Police used secret technology to track cellphones in thousands of cases,”, April 9, 2015.

Smart Streetlights in Florida

Jacksonville, Florida will be the second city [San Diego is the other] in the U.S. to participate in General Electric’s Intelligent City Initiative this year.  The pilot-program will include the placement of about 50 “smart” data-collecting LED streetlights in downtown Jacksonville and surrounding areas.  The streetlights are interconnected, collect real-time data, and will connect the lighting infrastructure to the internet.  The software, “Predix,” is ”GE’s software platform for the Industrial Internet, [and it] collects and analyzes data from these components, delivering optimized tools that respond to city challenges,” according to GE.

“Smart parking” is one of the first applications envisioned, that could allow motorists to receive information about the availability of parking spaces, and even notify the driver when the meter-time is running low.  It is not clear what data will be collected and who owns the data.  GE said that what data is collected and what is done with it, is up to city officials.  City officials said that the data is proprietary to GE.  One city official stated that the data may be shared with third-parties only with written consent of GE.

Sources:  Jensen Werley, “Jacksonville debuts high-tech streetlights – and they’re watching you,”, April 16, 2015:; Mikael Thalen, “’Intelligent’ Streetlights to ‘Watch’ Florida residents,”, April 17, 2015:

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor