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Police mum on tech tool known as Stingray

(Credit: Reuters) Commuters use their smartphones as they ride in a bus leaving Manhattan through the Lincoln Tunnel in New York October 8, 2010.Smartphone Users
March 22
10:44 AM 2014

Police are tightlipped about a technology tool called Stingray which can catch calls or messages that could help them locate suspects, the Associated Press reported.

While police are cautious when giving information about the product, they did say that it's a device about the size of a suitcase that is capable of making cellphones in the area believe it's a cell tower. All cellphones in the vicinity would then reveal themselves electronically and send data to Stingray instead of to the tower of the phone company. Due to the censorship surrounding the technology, the kind of information that the Stingray could get or the frequency of their use is not readily apparent, the report said.

The police are not also ready to give the particulars of the agreement they had with Harris Corp, the maker of Stingray, on the grounds that they are safeguarding police strategies as well as trade secrets. This kind of mystery surrounding the obligations signed in private contracts puts it at odds with the transparency laws of the government. Not much is known about Stingray even in states like Florida and Arizona which are known for their robust transparency regulations, the report said.

In a 2011 case that involved the Stingray, the FBI said that a "cell site simulator technology" would also get the messages of innocent people in the area covered and not merely that of the suspect that the police wants to catch, the report said.

Beau Hodai, a journalist and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona filed a case against the Tucson Police Department for allegedly not following the state law on public records. According to court documents, the police failed to comply with the law since they did not disclose records related to the Stingray and permitted Harris Corp to dictate the information that they would share publicly, the report said.

University of Arizona's Journalism School Director David Cuillier, and public-records laws expert, told AP, "I don't see how public agencies can make up an agreement with a private company that breaks state law. We can't have the commercial sector running our governments for us. These public agencies need to be forthright and transparent."

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