The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) has revealed that the New York Police Department has been using cell-site simulators, also known by the brand name Stingray, since at least 2008. This marks the first time the NYPD’s cell phone surveillance program has been made public.
The new documents show the NYPD used the Stingrays over 1,000 times between 2008 and May 2015. They also highlight that the nation’s largest police department has no written policy on the use of cell-site simulators. The police records indicate the devices were typically used in investigations of homicide, assault, kidnapping, drug trafficking, and rape, but were also used to investigate money laundering and identity theft.
Anti-Media has written extensively about how cell-site simulators are being used to track suspected criminals while largely operating without oversight from local, state, or federal authorities. Exactly how the devices operate and what data they collect and/or save has been unknown because of the vast degree of secrecy surrounding the tools.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation describes the Stingray as “a brand name of an IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) Catcher targeted and sold to law enforcement. A Stingray works by masquerading as a cellphone tower– to which your mobile phone sends signals to every 7 to 15 seconds whether you are on a call or not – and tricks your phone into connecting to it.”
The Harris Corporation, the manufacturer of the Stingray, has maintained a great deal of covertness surrounding these tools. Truth In Media previously reported on documents that revealed the Harris Corp. worked with the Federal Communications Commission to maintain a high level of secrecy.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU, said the privacy of every New Yorker is at risk because of the NYPD’s tactics. “Considering the NYPD’s troubling history of surveilling innocent people, it must at the very least establish strict privacy policies and obtain warrants prior to using intrusive equipment like stingrays that can track people’s cell phones,” Lieberman wrote.