The secret gadget that lets the police track your phone calls may have been used thousands of times


ederal and state authorities have been using a surveillance technology for almost a decade and only now is more information about this program coming to light, thanks to a new report from The Baltimore Sun.

The StingRay is a type of surveillance device that mimics a mobile phone tower and forces nearby mobile devices to connect to it. This means that the police would have access to phone calls, text messages, and other private data.

Authorities are said to be using the device to track down criminals, but a report from The New York Times said the StingRay often captures data from nearby devices too — not just the intended target.

State authorities have remained mum on the program due to a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with the Federal Government.

New testimony from the Baltimore Police Department, however, has revealed more about how widely the device is used and what it does.

Here are a few new developments recently learned about the StingRay program based on the Sun’s new report:

  • The “StingRay” has been used to surveil Baltimore residents more than 4,300 times since 2007.
  • According to this new testimony from a Baltimore detective, StingRay is more widely used than we originally thought. The Baltimore Police reportedly own a device known as the Hailstorm cell site simulator and have put it to use as many as 800 times in less than two years.

  • It’s been used thousands of times by other precincts too, including 1,800 times in Florida and 170 times in Tacoma, Washington. Newly revealed documents also show that it’s been used over 40 times in New York State.
  • The secrecy pact the police have with the FBI is deep. When a detective was asked if the nondisclosure agreement instructed him to withhold evidence, the detective replied “Yes.” At a hearing last year, a Maryland State Police commander explained that “Homeland Security” made it impossible for him to divulge any information about the StingRay program, the Baltimore Sun reports.
  • This new testimony divulged more about how StingRay works. The device is able to maker a “stronger signal” to overtake other mobile phones in the area. It is then able to track those mobile phones, giving the authorities the exact location of the device they’re hoping to track.

In the past, it was difficult to tell exactly how many times devices like the StingRay had been used due to NDAs with the Federal Government, but the American Civil Liberties Union has put together a graphic showing all of the states across the country that are believed to be using the StingRay based on available documents and reports. Although the American Civil Liberties Union was able to tell where the device had been used, this is the first time we’re learning about how frequently it’s been used.

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