HOW IS THE LAW REGARDING STINGRAYS WORKING?

POLICE TRANSPARENCY MAY NOT BE HAPPENING

by Marty Carlson

8-30-2017


During the life of this blog I have done several reports on a cell phone call interceptors device called the Stingray. This device mimics a cell phone tower and intercepts phone calls and text messages without either party in the call or message having any idea that it’s happened.

Sacramento County finally admitted to having a stingray after years of denial. Read HERE and HERE.

It has also caused some agencies to dismiss charges rather than admit its use, read HERE and HERE

a recent article in the Los Angeles times talks about the new legislation involved concerning stingray devices and the notifications that agencies are supposed to serve to the public of their ownership, and rules of usage.

The Times did a review of records from some of the state’s largest police and sheriff’s departments and found some agencies have been slow to follow or have ignored the law. Several these agencies partner with federal agencies to work on cases that are not subject to the laws reporting requirements.

Understand the stingray can be used in a vehicle like a van and be parked around the corner from your house and target your specific handheld device. Many federal agencies have devices and make them available to local law enforcement agencies. Realizing that some investigators with the law enforcement agencies actually “double badge,” meaning they also have FBI authorities and abilities and resources. It is a common practice these days to give them more resources. Those resources include the stingray cell phone intercepting device.

The only times reported that 21 law enforcement agencies were surveyed, and 12 were found to have access or own stingray or similar devices. Nine of those agencies had developed and released online public policies.

Here is a list of the 12 agencies they found:

Department Device Policies
LAPD OWN YES
Long Beach Police OWN YES
L.A. County Sheriff OWN YES
San Diego Police OWN YES
San Jose Police OWN YES
Fresno Police ACCESS** NO
Sacramento Police OWN YES
Sacramento County Sheriff OWN YES
Oakland Police ACCESS** YES
Alameda district attorney’s office OWN YES
Santa Ana Police ACCESS** NO
Anaheim Police OWN YES

**Officers don’t operate the stingray but work with other agencies that may

The Times also reviewed hundreds of documents that he received through public information request regarding purchase orders and memos and grant proposals for the use of stingrays and similar devices are also known as “dirt boxes.”

The devices cost up to $500,000 and are marketed for preventing and responding to terrorist threats. The documents found suggests they are used more frequently in criminal cases such as burglaries murders and kidnappings.

Some of the policies that were posted online by the agencies revealed little about the devices itself except for the fact they were in use. Many agencies took months to post their guidelines online.

The times and found that some of the agencies that own the stingrays bought them between 2006 and 2013, mostly with federal grant money or under programs. Some of those agreements prohibited any type of public disclosure. Local tax dollars were not used in the cities and counties didn’t ask about them in a public forum.

In 2015, California lawmakers passed a sweeping electronic communications privacy act, which prohibited any investigative body in the state from forcing businesses to turn over digital communications without a warrant. In addition, legislation was introduced to compel local law enforcement agencies to disclose more information about the use of stingrays in California.

During one judiciary committee hearing it was stated “that our country has a rich history of democracy and civilian oversight and the stealth use of these devices undercuts that very nature of our government.”

The law which took effect in January 2016, requires cities and counties to create guidelines for how and when officers use the equipment. Any agency wants to buy a device must first receive approval at a public hearing.

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