Records Released On SDPD's Use Of Stingray Cellphone Tracking Device
City Attorney's Office Releases Some Documents After Stingray Grant Application Found Online
The San Diego City Attorney's Office released documents on Monday detailing the San Diego Police Department's use of a Stingray cellphone tracking device system after a nonprofit found a grant application posted online.
As KPBS news partner inewsource reported last week, the nonprofit First Amendment Coalition sued the city of San Diego and its Police Department to get them to release documents related to the use of the International Mobile Subscriber IdentityCatchers device.
The Police Department had only made public a heavily redacted purchase order for $33,000, but Electronic Frontier found the city’s grant application. It showed that in 2009 the Police Department applied for $738,000 to buy the Stingray. The device works by mimicking cellphone towers. By capturing signals from targeted cellphones, police can obtain locations, outgoing calls, text messages and other information.
On Monday, the City Attorney's Office released more documents: a generic explainer of Stingray written by the U.S. Department of Justice; a copy of a court ruling that allowed the Tucson Police Department in Arizona to withhold information about the device; and an affidavit from a top FBI technology official.
The explainer, meant to be a template for local agencies, says: "The cell site simulator is a particularly effective tool and has assisted greatly in keeping the citizens of (LEA's jurisdiction or community) safe." LEA stands for Law Enforcement Agency.
It goes on to say that the need for secrecy has "unfortunately" led to "widely held misconceptions" about the device.
Police are required to get a court order before using the device, except in emergency situations involving kidnapping, missing children or evidence that a criminal act could lead to death or serious bodily injury, in which paperwork would be filed later, the document says. It says secrecy is required so that criminals don't learn how to avoid detection.
In the court ruling, Tucson police released some records about the Stingray but not others. A reporter's lawsuit to get the rest of the documentation was denied after a judge reviewed the materials in question.
In his declaration, Bradley Morrison, chief of the FBI's Tracking Technology Unit, says publication of details about the Stingray could lead to the development of countermeasures.
Law enforcement agencies that take the cellphone trackers sign a nondisclosure agreement, Morrison said.
The City Attorney's Office said city and police officials would have no further comment, and any other questions should be referred to the U.S. Justice Department.