Multiple police departments across California’s Bay Area are looking to upgrade their Stingray cell phone interceptors to an even more advanced model.
IMSI catchers, portable devices commonly referred to as Stingrays, trick 2G cell phones into sharing their information by mimicking a cell tower. Limited by their ability to only intercept older model phones, law enforcement groups are petitioning the federal government for half a million dollars in grant money in order to purchase the “Hailstorm,” a device capable of siphoning data from phones utilizing the 4G LTE network.
According to heavily redacted documents obtained by San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, several police departments have not only worked to hide their use of Stingrays, but have attempted to cloak their desire to upgrade their systems as well.
Officers in the San Jose Police Department were found to be labeling their IMSI catcher as “surveillance technology equipment,” while the Alameda County District Attorney’s office and the Fremont Police Department quietly worked to acquire Hailstorms through federal grants.
“The Hailstorm is the latest in the line of mobile phone tracking tools that Harris Corp. is offering authorities,” noted Ars Technica. “However, few details about it have trickled into the public domain.”
Unsurprisingly, Oakland police refused to provide public records regarding their cell phone interceptor altogether, citing an “exemption” given to them by the device’s manufacturer, a common tactic used by departments all across the country.
Replying to questions from CBS, representatives with the Alameda County DA’s office released the following statement:
The electronic surveillance technology we are seeking to acquire is an important tool to use for the safety and protection of the public. This technology can be used to prevent or respond to a terrorist attack. It can be used to track and apprehend serious and violent criminals and fugitives from justice. It can help to locate and recover missing persons and kidnapping victims. It may also be used in search and rescue operations to help locate missing or trapped victims of a natural disaster or terrorist attack. The use of this technology would speed the ability of rescue workers to locate injured victims quickly and to speed up the administration of life-saving medical intervention. The technology allows Law Enforcement and Public Safety Officers to use up-to-date technology to promote public safety and law enforcement well into the future. It is important to remember that this technology would not be used without court authorization.
Despite the DA’s claims, countless law enforcement groups using the exact same talking points have been found to be intercepting thousands of innocent cell users’ data for the most trivial of investigations.
Documents acquired through a public records request in Tacoma, Washington this year revealed that the city’s police department used their Stingray device in one instance to hunt down a missing city laptop. Shortly before the documents went public, Tacoma police asserted that the device was only used for criminal cases regarding homicide, rape, robbery, kidnapping and narcotics trafficking.
Famed NSA whistleblower Kirk Wiebe, who spoke exclusively with Infowars, decried the dangerous and unwarranted use of cell phone interceptors.
“These devices feed the mentality of the Police State, not unlike that experienced under the Nazis (Germany) and Stasi (East Germany),” Wiebe said. “Law enforcement is using this information to investigate and prosecute people without warrants – that is unconstitutional. At the national level, the same thing is happening.”
Although federal agencies have gone as far as instructing law enforcement groups to deceive judges in order to keep these devices under wraps, more and more information continues to surface with each passing day.
Just this week it was learned that a secret Department of Justice program used planes outfitted with cell phone interceptors to harvest Americans’ cell data from the sky.
Earlier this month multiple departments in Idaho refused to comment after a local civil liberties advocate detected the characteristics of an active IMSI catcher in one of the state’s largest cities.
Mobile security experts traveling through Washington D.C. last month detected signs of at least 17 IMSI catchers as well.