(CN) – The fact that so-called “StingRays” derive from military technology is no reason for the Erie County Sheriff’s Office to stonewall information on how the device tracks New Yorkers’ cellphones, a Buffalo judge ruled on Tuesday.
Celebrating the ruling, New York Civil Liberties Union lawyer John Curr noted that “this is not Iraq or Afghanistan – this is Buffalo.”
Originally designed for the military, the StingRay first came to public attention during the case against hacker Daniel David Rigmaiden, who was arrested for identity theft and other charges in 2008.
Rigmaiden’s discovery two years ago that prosecutors used the device to nab him inspired several Freedom of Information Act lawsuits around the country.
Critics of the technology, manufactured by the Florida-based Harris Corporation, say that it tramples upon cellphone users’ privacy by scooping up information from all devices near a cellular tower.
In the latest lawsuit over the technology, the New York Civil Liberties Union requested documents from the Erie County Sheriff’s Office following local media reports about the use of StingRays in the area.
The Erie County Sheriff’s Office claimed secrecy over the information under federal legal restrictions that forbid exporting military-grade electronic surveillance equipment without a government license or revealing sensitive information about such technology to foreign nationals.
Erie County Supreme Court Judge Patrick NeMoyer noted that the NYCLU is not a “foreign person,” adding that he had “no difficulty” rejecting the sheriff’s military secrecy argument in a 24-page opinion.
Ordering the disclosure of a June 11, 2014 memorandum on “Cellular Tracking Procedures” and dozens of so-called “complaint summary reports,” NeMoyer forced the sheriff’s office to pay the NYCLU’s attorney fees for “unfounded denials and inexcusable delays.”
In a statement, the NYCLU’s lead counsel on the case, Mariko Hirose, said that the ruling confirmed that “law enforcement cannot hide behind a shroud of secrecy while it is invading the privacy of those it has sworn to protect and serve.”
“The public has a right to know how, when and why this technology is being deployed, they deserve to know what safeguards and privacy protections, if any, are in place to govern its use,” she added.
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