The New York Police Department has been secretly spying on cell phones since at least 2008, according to documents released by the New York Civil Liberties Union on Thursday.
The NYCLU, through Freedom of Information Law requests, found that the NYPD used Stingray surveillance equipment more than 1,000 times between 2008 and May 2015, and did so without warrants. Instead, the NYPD received low-level court orders to conduct this surveillance.
“If carrying a cell phone means being exposed to military grade surveillance equipment, then the privacy of nearly all New Yorkers is at risk,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU, said in a statement on the organization's website. “Considering the NYPD’s troubling history of surveilling innocent people, it must at the very least establish strict privacy policies and obtain warrants prior to using intrusive equipment like Stingrays that can track people’s cell phones.”
The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment before this story was published.
If true, this will be the first time that NYPD has acknowledged the use of Stingray surveillance equipment. The technology works by mimicking a cell tower and can located a person using a cell phone nearby. The devices also are capable of tracking the phone numbers a person has been in contact with and intercepting texts and phone call data.
NYPD documents obtained by the NYCLU show that the majority of Stingray uses resulted in arrests. But despite the obvious benefits of cell phone surveillance to law enforcement, the NYCLU worries about the implications of such technology.
"New Yorkers have very real concerns about the NYPD's adoption of intrusive surveillance technology," NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney Mariko Hirose said. "The NYPD should at minimum obtain warrants before using Stingrays, to protect the privacy of innocent people."
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