New York City police have tracked citizens’ cellphones over 1,000 times since 2008 without using warrants, according to public records obtained by the New York Civil Liberties Union.
The organization announced on Thursday that the NYPD has typically used “stingrays” after obtaining lower-level court orders, but not warrants, before using the devices. The department also does not have a policy guiding how police can use the controversial devices. This is the first time that the scope of stingray use by the nation’s largest police agency has been confirmed.
The devices, generically known as stingrays, work by mimicking cell towers and tracking a cellphone’s location at a specific time. Law enforcement agencies can use the technology to track people’s movements through their cellphone use. Stingrays can also detect the phone numbers that a person has been communicating with, according to the NYCLU. The devices allow law enforcement to bypass cellphone carriers, who have provided information to police in the past, and can track data about bystanders in close proximity to the intended target.
Mariko Hirose, the NYCLU attorney who filed the records request, said the records reveal knowledge about NYPD’s stingray use that should have been divulged before police decided to start using them.