Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judge to Review Police Phone-Tracking Records

CHICAGO (CN) - A Cook County judge will personally review records about the Chicago Police Department's use of cellphone tracking and eavesdropping devices to decide if the information can be made public.

Chicago resident Freddy Martinez filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the police department in 2014, seeking information regarding cops' use of cellphone tracking equipment.

His request sought documents showing when, where, how, why, and by whom Chicago police deployed "Stingray" tracking devices.

When in operation, an "IMSI catcher" like Stingray mimics a wireless cell tower, forcing nearby cellphones to connect to it, according to court records. It can be used to disrupt cellphone calls, or conduct a "man-in-the-middle attack" whereby it intercepts the cellphone call, relays it forward to the legitimate cell tower, then secretly records phone conversations, text messages, and webpages visited.

Martinez wants to know the Chicago Police Department's formal procedures for deciding when a Stingray device should be deployed, what sort of legal authorization is required, and what happens to the data collected by the search.

The police denied his FOIA request in September 2014, claiming that making the requested information public would provide criminals with critical information about the technology's capabilities and jeopardize law enforcement investigations.

But Cook County, Ill., Judge Kathleen Kennedy was not persuaded, and ruled in Martinez's favor Monday.

She rejected the state's argument that Stingrays should be treated just like a pen register or trap-and-trace device, which record outgoing and incoming phone numbers, respectively.

"The record reflects that IMSI [international mobile subscriber identity] catchers, also known as cell site stimulators or Stingrays, can capture a cell phone's unique serial number, its location, and the content of calls, text messages, and webpages visited," Kennedy said. "Because IMSI catchers' capabilities are broader, it is improper to equate them to and treat them as pen registers and trap and trace devices."

She also found affidavits submitted in support of the government's position to be overly vague and not specific regarding the Chicago Police Department's use of the devices.

"In his affidavit, SSA [Supervisory Special Agent Bradley] Morrison details FBI policy regarding the protection of any information regarding cell site simulators and issues why the disclosure of 'even minor details' about the use of cell site simulators can be detrimental to law enforcement efforts and public safety," Kennedy wrote. "However, SSA Morrison fails to mention specifically any of the documents or materials at issue in this case, nor does he profess to know any specifics about defendant's use of this technology."

Kennedy ordered the Chicago police to produce the requested documents for an in camera review by Jan. 25. She will then decide if any of the records may be publicly released.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.