OAKLAND, CA—Documents released last week by the City of Oakland reveal that it is one of a handful of American jurisdictions attempting to upgrade an existing cellular surveillance system, commonly known as a stingray.
The Oakland Police Department, the nearby Fremont Police Department, and the Alameda County District Attorney jointly applied for a grant from the Department of Homeland Security to "obtain a state-of-the-art cell phone tracking system," the records show.
Stingray is a trademark of its manufacturer, publicly traded defense contractor Harris Corporation, but "stingray" has also come to be used as a generic term for similar devices.
The cellular surveillance system's upgrade, known as Hailstorm, is necessary. Existing stingray devices will no longer work in a few years as older phone networks get turned off.
According to Harris' annual report, which was filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission last week, the company profited over $534 million in its latest fiscal year, the most since 2011.
"We do not comment on solutions we may or may not provide to classified Department of Defense or law enforcement agencies," Jim Burke, a spokesman for Harris, told Ars.
Other locales known to be in the process of related federally-funded upgrades include Tacoma, Wash.; Baltimore, Md.; Chesterfield, Va.; Sunrise, Fla.; and Oakland County, Mich. There are likely many more, but such purchases are often shrouded in secrecy.Worse still, cops have lied to courts about the use of such technology. Not only can stingrays be used to determine a phone’s location, but they can also intercept calls and text messages. Relatively little is known about how stingrays are precisely used by law enforcement agencies nationwide, although documents have surfaced showing how they have been purchased and used in some limited instances. Last year, Ars reported on leaked documents showing the existence of a body-worn stingray. In 2010, Kristin Paget famously demonstrated a homemade device built for just $1,500.
Robert Shipway, of the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office, said he was not aware of their described use during the process of criminal discovery in county prosecutions in recent years. That could mean that local law enforcement and prosecutors are concealing or obscuring their use […].
"The most frustrating part of this whole situation is that the county continually refuses to share information on what the technology does, while telling lawmakers and the public to just trust them," Michigan state representative Tom McMillin said in a statement in June 2014. "Among other things, this technology can mimic cell towers to collect data, and citizens wouldn’t have any way of knowing their privacy, or worse their rights, have been violated. To me, that runs into our constitutional rights."To read Farivar's entire article, click HERE.