USA Today reported last week that nearly 2,000 convictions are being examined in Baltimore, Maryland, where the police improperly used high power cell phone tracking devices to investigate crimes. Defense lawyers plan to seek to have hundreds of convictions thrown out.
According to the article, cellphone trackers known as “stingrays” have been used by police to investigate cases as minor as harassing phone calls. This surveillance was not disclosed to attorneys or their clients, in contravention of Maryland law. Stingrays are suit-case sized devices that pose as the cell phone tower, allowing for the interception of information from phones of anyone in a given area.
Apparently, more than 50 police departments across the country possess these devices, although the exact number or particular municipalities are unknown. The A.C.L.U claims that the FBI has local departments sign a non-disclosure agreement to preclude any information being shared about when or how the devices are used. This surveillance is done without a court order, and the very fact that surveillance is done is withheld from those being investigated.
The debate about stingrays has made it to the nation’s capital. Senator Grassley of Iowa, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has questioned the need to keep the use of stingrays secret, stating that transparency leads to accountability. It is possible, but unlikely, that national legislation covering the devices will be enacted in the near future.
It is unknown whether or not the devices are used regularly in Pennsylvania. If you have any information on the use of Stingrays locally, it is important that you speak up so that the legality of their use in individual cases can be assessed.