Michael Bott, and Thom Jensen, News 10 10:54 p.m. EST March 6,
News10 submitted numerous public records requests to every major law enforcement agency in Northern California to find out which departments are using StingRay technology. A StingRay is a device law enforcement uses to track people and collect real time data from every cellphone within a certain radius.
Cellphone spying technology being used throughout Northern CaliforniaSome agencies provided documentation, but none would discuss how StingRays work, or even admit they have them. However, records show at least seven Northern California agencies have the technology and two more just received grants to buy it in 2014.
San Jose Police Department provided News10 with documentation that provided insight into what agencies have the technology and why they want it.
A 2012 grant application submitted to the Bay Area Urban Area Shield Initiative UASI, which was approved, said San Jose police requested feedback from numerous other agencies that already use StingRays.
“Research of the product included testing by San Jose Police and technology and equipment feedback from the U.S. Marshals Service, REDACTED, the Oakland Police Department, the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. This technology is in use at the law enforcement agencies listed [above],” the application states.
They explain how the surveillance system would be used in conjunction with Oakland and San Francisco police in another section of the grant application.
“We will work with the Fusion Center to partner with San Francisco and Oakland to ensure we have the ability to cover all of the Bay Area in deploying cellphone tracking technology in any region of the Bay Area at a moment’s notice.”
Terrorism is used as the primary justification for purchasing StingRay technology in every grant application obtained by News10. San Jose police, Fremont police, the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office and Oakland police say a StingRay could be used to track and disrupt terrorist networks and protect critical infrastructure.
However, arrest records from Oakland and Los Angeles show that StingRays are being used for routine police work. Lye says the potential for “mission creep” is concerning.
“Mission creep is an unfortunate but extremely common phenomenon with surveillance technology,” she said. “By ‘mission creep,’ I mean the phenomenon in which one purpose is offered to justify the collection of the data, but the data is ultimately used for many other entirely separate purposes.
“Purchase orders, almost entirely redacted, show the San Jose Police Department purchased StingRay technology in 2013, though they have not provided any information on StingRay-related arrests. They paid almost $500,000, using Bay Area UASI funds secured in 2011 and 2012. $250,000 from the 2011 went to the purchase of surveillance equipment. $250,000 from the 2012 grant funded a “surveillance system,” a $42,000 surveillance vehicle and a $20,000 installation fee. It also paid for four training sessions in Melbourne, Florida.