The New York Police Department (NYPD) has admitted that it used controversial cell phone spying tool "Stingrays" more than 1,000 times since 2008 without warrants.
In the documents obtained by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), the NYPD acknowledged that the department has used Stingrays to intercept personal communications and track the locations of nearby mobile phone users.
In my previous article, I have explained the scope of Stingrays along with its working, how it cracks encryption and how the police agencies are using these cell phone spying devices equipped in its military surveillance technology DRTBox in order to:
Stingrays are small cell phone surveillance devices that work by imitating cellphone towers, forcing all nearby phones to connect to them and revealing the owners' locations. These devices are small enough to be mounted on a plane.
The organization disclosed on Thursday that the NYPD has not obtained a proper warrant before using the cell phone spying device, instead obtained a "pen register order" from a lower-level court, typically used to collect phone call data for a specific mobile phone.
Moreover, the NYPD also does not have any written policy guidelines for Stingrays use. According to the NYCLU, this is the first time the nation's largest police agency has confirmed to using the controversial surveillance technology.
While Stingrays were most commonly used for serious investigation purposes – like kidnapping, drug trafficking, rape, homicide, assault – the NY Police was also using these devices for investigating money laundering and ID theft.
The police records show that the department used Stingray 1,016 times between 2008 and May 2015, which indicates that the police have been largely relying on Stingrays surveillance and violating the privacy of New Yorkers.
> "If carrying a cell phone means being exposed to military-grade surveillance equipment, then the privacy of nearly all New Yorkers is at risk," NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman says.
"Considering the NYPD's troubling history of surveilling innocent people, it must at the very least establish strict privacy policies and obtain warrants [before] using intrusive equipment like Stingrays that can track people's cell phones."
Last year, both the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a policy that required the FBI and other federal authorities to obtain a proper court warrant before deploying these tracking devices.
Still, these notorious spying devices continue to be used without warrants and the knowledge of citizens. The NYCLU suggests the departments change its policy "at a minimum" that requires officers to obtain a warrant prior to deploying such devices.
However, in response to this report, the NYPD is justifying itself by saying that they had used the surveillance technology in emergency situations in which the life or safety of someone was at risk and that too after applying for a court order and consulting a District Attorney.