Small Stir in Search for Cop Records on Trackers

     TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – Police have until Sept. 15 to hand over a list of records withheld from a reporter investigating use of Stingray cellphone tracking equipment, a judge ruled.
     Stingray is a portable device that acts like a cellphone tower, forcing nearby cellphones to connect to it and to provide data, including what phone numbers are called and the duration of the call.
     Believing that such powerful technology could let police collect information about of cellphone users not involved in or suspected of any crime, Beau Hodai has been looking since late 2013 for information about the Tucson police department’s use of such equipment.
     An investigative reporter with DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy, Hodai claimed in a March lawsuit that surveillance equipment manufactured by Harris Corp. is capable of “mimicking cell phone towers; collecting cell phone data from thousands of persons in a single use; intercepting the content of communications; capturing cell phone meta data, text messages, and location data; providing real-time tracking of persons; conducting denial of service attacks on phone users; and, monitoring and mining information from mobile phones over large, targeted areas.”
     The reporter’s attorney, Darrel Hill with ACLU Arizona, said in an interview that the number of other law enforcement agencies using Stingray technology remains unclear.
     “We know it’s proliferating inside local police departments, but we don’t know how far it has spread,” Hill said.
     Though Hodai wants to see the department’s work products, records and emails related to its use of Stingray and Stingray II – equipment that he says cost the city at least $400,000 – the police department has thus far given him only a few redacted documents.
     Hill, the ACLU attorney, said that the city has justified its withholdings by pointing to an ongoing investigation.
     Though Tucson allegedly has a nondisclosure agreement with Harris Corp., Hill doubted whether “that would hold up” in litigation.
     The Pima County Superior Court recently endorsed the city’s stonewalling, citing “the best interest of the state” and a “sensitive on-going criminal investigation.”
     Judge D. Douglas Metcalf did, however, give the department until Sept. 15 to provide Hodai with a list “identifying each record withheld and the reason why the record is being withheld.”
     Hodai and his ACLU attorneys then have until mid-October to file a brief on why the records should be disclosed.
     “We don’t know quite how it works and how it’s being used,” Hill said Wednesday. “We just don’t know enough about it.”
     Hill called the ruling a kind of victory.
     “[The city] was trying to kind of rush the case along,” he said, “but this gives us a chance to know what they have, and their reasons for not disclosing it.”

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