StingRay is capable of disrupting cellular service for every phone within a given vicinity, according to a new court document obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union. The disclosure, the first that could explain the secrecy around the controversial police surveillance technology, comes as privacy advocates and the U.S. Department of Justice have continued to dispute StingRay’s legality.

A StingRay is a mobile, suitcase-sized piece of equipment that, by replicating a cell tower signal, makes it possible for law enforcement agencies across the country to vacuum up details of all kinds about cell phones in the area — everything from call metadata to text details and snippets of conversations. Metadata includes background information, such as call records and user location, that is stored on a device or in the cloud.

They’ve been in use for more than a decade, but anxious civil liberties advocates still have little understanding of exactly how StingRays are used because of a non-disclosure agreement police agencies must sign with the StingRay’s manufacturer, Florida-based Harris Corp., in order to obtain one.

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