Blog of Rights

Linda
Lye
Photo of Stingray from U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Documents Reveal Unregulated Use of Stingrays in California

By Linda Lye, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Northern California at 4:37pm
Local law enforcement agencies across the Bay Area have so-called stingray devices, a powerful cellphone surveillance tool, and more are planning to acquire the technology, according to public records recently obtained by Sacramento News10. The devices are highly intrusive and completely unregulated. Although the Wall Street Journal reported in 2011 that they were being used by the federal government, the News10 records reveal for the first time that these devices are also in widespread use by local authorities stretching from San José to Sacramento. The revelations are troubling. Once again, we see the proliferation of powerful new surveillance tools, but without any rules to constrain their use. The acquisition of these devices is shrouded in secrecy and driven by federal grant money, which undermines local democratic oversight. Their actual use by local law enforcement reflects the all too common phenomenon of mission creep: Although the justification for acquiring these devices is “fighting terrorism,” agencies seem to be using them for ordinary criminal law enforcement.
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